New York Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke has been through the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup many years as a player and last season as a coach. He knows the emotional attachment of fans and the heightened interest there will be when his Red Bulls play the NASL’s New York Cosmos on Saturday.
It will be one of six MLS-NASL clashes among the 16 fourth-round matches of the Open Cup and the featured “Match of the Round” to be streamed live on ussoccer.com. It also will be the first-ever meeting between the Cosmos and Red Bulls.
Still, Petke has other considerations, particularly when it comes to player selection.
“I love the Open Cup, because I’m an American,” Petke said. “I was playing in the Open Cup 17, 18 years ago. But I can tell you right now that I am 100 percent judged by my results in MLS by my bosses and from Austria, and not from the Open Cup. If we win the Open Cup, I don’t know if I’ll even get recognition from Austria because they don’t understand it.
“That’s where I have to sometimes separate myself and realize that ‘What’s my job title?’ and ‘What’s my job description?’ But at the end of the day, the Open Cup always calls you back.”
MLS has entered a two-week pause for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which means there will be no league games until June 25 (June 27 for the Red Bulls). But Petke is without World Cuppers Tim Cahill (Australia) and Roy Miller (Costa Rica) and will not have the injured Dax McCarty. The Red Bulls will also likely will be without forward Thierry Henry and defender Jamison Olave, who routinely avoid games on turf. This will be on the turf surface of the Cosmos’ home field at Hofstra University.
So, Petke is more than hinting that he will go the route many MLS clubs take in the early rounds of the Open Cup and send out a lot of reserves and non-regulars.
“I understand it’s going to be made a very big deal,” Petke said. “Perhaps a week or two ago it really impacted the way I was thinking, as far as ‘Thierry’s playing that game. We’re flying Cahill back from the World Cup, because we can’t lose to the Cosmos.’
“I’ve completely gone the other way right now. We need to get certain guys rest. We need to see certain players. If we were playing the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, or the Carolina RailHawks, or something, there probably wouldn’t be a debate as to who was going to play.”
For Gio Savarese and the Cosmos, who are running ads that say “Let’s Settle This,” it is a bigger deal. Savarese has much of the same considerations as Petke, his former New York/New Jersey MetroStars teammate. The Cosmos have injuries. The NASL is in a World Cup pause having just finished its spring season. And Savarese’s roster is not as deep as Petke’s.
“I see it that we’re in the same way,” Savarese said. “Our players are in the same stage as their players.”
And while not trying to throw gasoline on a fire, Savarese also is aware of the significance attached to the game.
“This is a special game,” Savarese said. “It’s the first time the professional organizations are playing in New York. There are a lot of components, but I would not see it as a test. We need to enjoy the moment.
“I wouldn’t put it that we want to show we’re just as good, or we have something to prove. The New York Cosmos is an important organization. We’re taking it very seriously. We’re not trying to prove something to the Red Bulls – that we belong. The reality is what we are, where we are.”
The Cosmos won the NASL title last year. The Red Bulls were the MLS Supporters’ Shield winners.
The Cosmos are in second place in the NASL. The Red Bulls are in fifth place in MLS’ Eastern Conference.
Bragging rights are at stake.
“We are going to put out this weekend the best starting 11 that we see in practice this week,” Savarese said.
Petke is well aware of what’s coming.
“I’ve been in the game since 1998,” Petke said. “I’ve played 15-20 games against so-called minor-league teams: NASL, A-League back in the day, and it’s always their World Cup. It’s always tough mentally to really get up for it. That’s the issue I have as a coach, so I know they’re going to be gunning for us.”