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Reviewing Mike Petke’s 2018 performance

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What expectations did you have for Mike Petke as head coach of Real Salt Lake during 2018?

We all hold expectations for those around us based upon what we have learned from interacting and watching them. Sometimes those expectations are noble and at other times petty. It is always wise to take time to step back and re-evaluate those expectations from time to time and adjust them accordingly.

Head Coach Mike Petke is nearing the end of his second year at the helm of Real Salt Lake. While it is true that he arrived after the start the 2017 season, he played a significant role in the 2017 season and was rewarded with a new three year contract shortly after the end of that season.

Let me invite you to follow along as I do a “personal performance review” against three of my expectations for him during the 2018 season. Consider this my attempt to take the conversation beyond simple #PetkeOut and #MikefreakinPetke hashtags and look at how he measured up to my personal expectations going into the season.

Did Coach Petke ride his favorites hard?

Back when Jeff Cassar had just been fired and the search for a new coach was under way, I wrote an article for this blog in which I expressed some concerns about Coach Petke and his match to the RSL job. Coach Petke was, and remains, a driven and highly passionate coach and man. He likes players that give their all each and every day, during practice and on the field at games. He has never been “quick with the hook” in matches and only made limited substitutions. He really does reward players who bring their “A” game and effort in practice with time on the field in games.

While injuries have forced Coach Petke to go much deeper into the roster than he might have planned during the 2018 season, I never did not expect him to go deep into the roster. My expectation was that he would quickly latch on to a fairly permanent starting 11 and game day 18. He has not historically been one to make frequent adjustments to the lineup based upon the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent, instead he has relied upon changes to the on field tactics and briefings for his starting squad.

While you may surely wish for a different pattern from your head coach, this season he has performed as he did as a player and with Red Bulls. One of his classic stories is about the time he benched Thierry Henry as the result of a “coach’s decision” and experience has shown he will continue to bench players who he feels are not putting it all out on the field or during practice. He wants players with the attitude and approach that he had as a player and rewards those willing to provide that level of effort.

Did Coach Petke entertain in press conferences?

As we have all come to see, Coach Petke does bring new life into post-match interviews. He will express his thoughts and opinions in a manner that is forthright and candid. He will not hesitate to express things just as he feels that they are.

While this can result in headlines, fines, memes, and viewing more entertaining that the actual matches upon occasion. It is important to note that he really does mean what he says and he is not merely talking for the camera. If he says that the referee cost his team the game, he really believes that was the case. He might be correct or incorrect, but at that moment, it really is how he thinks and feels. If he says that he failed to prepare the team correctly for a match, that is really how he views the match and his on-the-spot evaluation of his performance on the day.

Can he change his mind as things settle down? Of course. Can he take the hide off a person when not on camera? Of course. But that should not distract from the fact that his press conferences are a glimpse into his personal world at that point in time.

Did Coach Petke play the homegrowns?

In the original article mentioned above I was concerned that Coach Petke’s preference for his own type of hard-nosed veteran player and how it could lead to a lack of minutes for the younger homegrown players on the RSL roster. Established professionals with ingrained work and practice routines and styles could have a leg up on younger players who have not yet developed those coping skills. A large part of what players new to MLS, or the professional ranks in general, must do is quickly develop how to act like a professional and care for yourself and your body in a professional manner.

It is also easy to always point to the new young inexperienced players as a quick reason why results do not go your way. As fans, we want to see the young players get time on the field and grow to their potential. However, we also want to be victorious and have a triumphant season and playoff run. These do not always go hand in hand and not all players are receptive to the wishes of the staff and the best interests of the team.

While it must be argued that his hand was forced somewhat by injury, I think that on the whole Coach Petke has done a much better job in this area than I expected going into the season. I sincerely doubt that Brooks Lennon came into camp hoping he could spend the season at right back, yet he has, and he has shown growth and improvement. Corey Baird went from Real Monarchs material at the start of the season to MLS Rookie of the Year - an award that no RSL player has even won. Justin Glad remained a feature at center back even with more experience players available. Aaron Herrera has also seen a great deal of time along with Sebastian Saucedo. Danny Acosta remains the only player missing for the bulk of the season, and here I suspect that at least a measure of the blame lays upon the player because he is the outlier.

In Conclusion

While you might easily expect and wish for different things from a head coach, I would have to confess that Coach Petke “met or exceeded” my expectations for him during this season. Of course, I would like a much better record and and a deeper run into the playoffs. However, that, must of necessity, involve the performance of many more individuals than just the head coach. How has the performance of Coach Petke compared with your expectations of him for the 2018 season?