Real Salt Lake: Hard-nosed, no-nonsense Long Island roots driving force behind Mike Petke’s success

First Published      Last Updated Jun 08 2017 05:17 pm

Soccer » Hard-nosed, no-nonsense Long Island roots are the driving force behind Mike Petke’s success, first as a player and now as the new coach at Real Salt Lake.

Mike Petke had a preferred method of breaking news when he was a kid. He would gather together the whole family inside their blue-collar suburban home on Long Island, N.Y. It could've been a club soccer trip around New York or to Europe. Or an award for his abilities on the field. Or when he decided to enter the MLS draft.

Time went on, Petke's preference for the big family announcement didn't change, even as he developed into a 6-foot-2 no-nonsense center back with earrings, nose rings and bleach-blond hair. He would bring them together to announce where his pro career would continue. Or when it eventually would end.

So the Saturday before last Christmas, Petke, along with his wife and two sons, his siblings, their spouses and their kids, all invaded Ed and Catherine Petke's home in Bohemia, N.Y.

The grandkids were in the basement. The adults were upstairs in the kitchen. Petke's older sister, Suzanne, was battling breast cancer. A round of chemotherapy was scheduled for Christmas weekend, so the Petke family reconvened a little earlier than normal. Suzanne had that all-too-familiar feeling: Her little brother, one of her best friends, grabbed her by the shoulder.

"Sue," Petke said, "I'm going to do this again. I'm going to make an announcement."

Gathered in the kitchen, he told everyone that he was back. Petke was a coach again less than two years after his stunning firing as New York Red Bulls coach. And he could not control the emotion of the moment, no matter how much he wanted to.

"He just started crying and said, 'You know how miserable I've been for the last two years,'" said Petke's mother, Catherine. "And we did know it."

Then Petke announced where. In suburban Salt Lake City with a USL outfit, a minor-league affiliate of Real Salt Lake called Real Monarchs. Four months later, Petke would be promoted to become the fourth coach ever at RSL.

'Trust me, mom'

Ed Petke worked on the Long Island railroad for 35 years and purposely worked those early shifts from 4 a.m. to noon, so that when his three children arrived home from school, he could be there waiting. They grew up in what Mike Petke describes as a standard, middle-class neighborhood.

"I could drive around a neighborhood here in Utah and it reminds me of where I grew up," Mike Petke said recently, seated inside an empty Rio Tinto Stadium.

The youngest, Mike, was a perfectionist from an early age.

"Whatever he did," Ed Petke said, "he just went into it."

"Maybe it was a third child syndrome," Catherine Petke joked. "The other two baby books were full and his was empty. I don't know."

"It was like he saw his future," sister Suzanne said, "and saw what he wanted."

Like any young athlete, Petke wanted to impress his parents, siblings, friends and coaches. His talent eventually was recognized and he was invited to a prestigious private school, St. John the Baptist in West Islip, N.Y. The Petkes remortgaged their home more than once to pay for his tuition. Petke went on to win state and national titles.

After spending three years at Southern Connecticut State, he left a semester early and threw his name into the 1998 MLS draft. Petke was drafted over the loud speaker at halftime during a combine for college seniors in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He didn't hear it clearly at first.

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About Mike Petke

Age » 41

Hometown » Bohemia, N.Y.

Playing days » New York MetroStars (1998-2002), D.C. United (2003-2005), Colorado Rapids (2005-2008), New York Red Bulls (2009-2010).

Coaching background » Hired as RSL coach March 29, Real Monarchs coach in December 2016, New York Red Bulls coach (2013-2014), Red Bulls assistant (2011-2012).

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