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Why Real Salt Lake fired Mike Petke, and what comes next

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Real Salt Lake’s coach was fired. Here’s why.

Orlando City v Real Salt Lake Photo by Peter Lous/Soccrates/Getty Images

Real Salt Lake’s firing of Mike Petke, which was announced with “termination” language, has perhaps raised some eyebrows around the league for those who haven’t paid the same level of attention as we have here.

Let’s break down what happened and what happens next.

What did Mike Petke do?

Following a Leagues Cup match against Tigres UANL, Petke, who was incensed following a refereeing decision, repeatedly and pointedly screamed in the face of the head referee for the match. Multiple sources reported that Petke screamed obscenities and a Spanish language homophobic slur, including The Athletic. He was reported to have followed the refereeing crew down the tunnel, shouting obscenities and the slur. Reports also indicated that Petke wrote the slur on some sort of paper, then either delivered it to the referee’s locker room, or had it delivered to the referee’s locker room.

What it actually wasn’t

The extent of Petke’s actions give us a good view of the things he didn’t do:

  • Petke did not simply “defend his team”
  • Petke did not simply “argue” with officials over a call
  • Petke did not simply shout the slur once or twice; he instead repeated it, pursued the officials, then harassed the officials. At some point during this time, he told the gathered press that his words following the red card he was shown would have earned him a red card.

Whatever your perspective on the words in question, it is clear from the evidence that Petke engaged in repeated, targeted harassment following the final whistle. This cannot be separated from the words he used, and it makes his intention clear — whether he knew the connotation of the word he used or not.

What did MLS and Real Salt Lake do?

Following an investigation into Petke’s conduct, Major League Soccer suspended Real Salt Lake’s coach for three matches, the first of which was served during the investigation. The league also fined him $25,000 and ordered him to attend anger management and sensitivity training. Real Salt Lake suspended Petke for two weeks without pay, and a conservative estimate might place that around $20,000 to $25,000.

During the period of suspension by RSL, in which he was barred from having any team contact, detail emerged in a report we broke that RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen was considering firing Petke.

On Sunday night, Real Salt Lake announced Petke’s contract termination, citing the club’s “core values.”

At Real Salt Lake, we have the privilege to represent our great community and fans here locally and on a national and global basis. We hold all of our coaches, players, executives and staff to the highest standards of professionalism. As an organization, it is vital that everyone, particularly our leadership, reflects and embodies our core values and the values of our community, treating all people with respect, civility and professionalism. Moreover, throughout our 15-year history, we have championed diversity, acceptance and inclusion throughout our organization, our stadiums and our community. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously.

Who will now coach Real Salt Lake?

Assistant coach Freddy Juarez has been named the interim head coach for the remainder of the 2019 season. At current, this leaves him with just two assistant coaches: goalkeeper coach Todd Hoffard, who was ostensibly a Petke hire, and Tyrone Marshall. Both Juarez and Marshall predate Petke’s joining Real Salt Lake, having both served under Jeff Cassar during his head coach stint.

There is no indication at this time that the club will hire a replacement.

Has Petke said anything?

Through public channels, Petke has remained silent on the matter. Following the Aug. 3 Real Salt Lake win over New York City FC, Petke tweeted a thumbs-up emoji.

What comes next?

It’s very much up to Juarez now to show he can continue the good form he’s already put on display. He has yet to lose a match while acting as head coach, and while that will absolutely change at some point, it’s at least a sign that he’s competent. There’s little we know beyond that point.

We can be relatively assured that Juarez at least lasts in this role until the end of the season. What happens following that depends in part on how Juarez performs in the role. If he excels, expect him to stand a good chance of landing the job full-time.

Another point of question will of course be if the club makes a hire in the assistant coaching department. They may simply be too short-handed otherwise to properly run the team. Of course, this is something I’m not at all sure about,

Have any players spoken about this?

No player has spoken about the firing, to this point, in a public setting. This will likely change soon.

Several players, most of whom had prior experience with Freddy Juarez in his RSL Academy coach role, spoke positively of Juarez when he was serving as acting head coach and not interim head coach.