The Real Salt Lake team that beat Sporting Kansas City 2-1 in its final match of the season was as close to Mike Petke’s vision as it had been all year. It fell a point shy of a playoff berth, but the front office liked what it saw enough to sign Petke to a three-year contract extension.
“To have the opportunity that [RSL owner] Mr. [Dell Loy] Hansen and [general manager] Craig [Waibel] have given me and the platform for me to do the things I think are right, the trust they have shown, it’s been amazing,” Petke said at the press conference to announce his new contract Thursday.
Real Salt Lake owner Hansen announced Petke’s extension on Thursday, after RSL finished the season with only three losses in its final 15 matches. Other than the length of the extension, terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Hansen also told The Tribune that he intends to trigger the option in Waibel’s contract.
Petke signed his first RSL contract, a multi-year deal, on March 29, after the team fired previous coach Jeff Cassar three games into the season. Petke originally came to coach the RSL-affiliated Real Monarchs this season.
“Mikes’s the real deal,” Hansen told The Tribune. “He’s got real talent, he’s a motivator, he’s a leader, he’s inspirational. We turned around because of Mike.”
Petke led Real Salt Lake to its first win on April 8 in his first match at the helm, and the team has gone 13-12-4 since he took over. Growing pains after the change in leadership contributed to a rocky first half of the season that landed RSL at the bottom of the MLS standings at the beginning of July.
Waibel has long emphasized finding a match in every position — both player- and personnel-wise — that fits the club in both skill level and personality. With Petke’s extension, RSL sends the message that it sees that in him.
“We’ve instilled a new feeling, a new type of passion, and it’s Mike,” Waibel said. “It’s the way Mike leads his staff, the way Mike leads his players, the way he connects to the Monarchs and [Monarchs coach] Mark Briggs and down through the academy, so there’s a feeling that our leadership is correct.”
Petke began his MLS coaching career with the New York Red Bulls, which he led to consecutive postseason appearances in his two seasons there. In 2013, with Petke at the helm, the Red Bulls claimed the Supporters’ Shield, the club’s first-ever trophy. The next season he took them to the Eastern Conference championship game.
However in January of 2015, then-Red Bulls sporting director Ali Curtis fired Petke and replaced him the next day with Jesse Marsch.
“It couldn’t be more different,” Petke said of his current and former franchises. “And I’m not saying better or worse or anything, but just different. And the difference is that I enjoy working in this environment a heck of a lot better. I’m given a platform, I’m given a canvas with a paintbrush to do what I feel is right as far as playing style, as far as selection. Whereas perhaps in New York there were a lot more influences around.”
The promise of creative control was one of the things that convinced Petke to take the Real Monarchs job in December, he said. Three months later, RSL announced that he had been promoted to the first team.
Waibel, too, quickly made his way up through the ranks of the organization. He originally served as an assistant coach in 2014 before becoming the club’s technical director. Hansen promoted him to general manager in August of 2015.
“Craig will be here,” Hansen said. “He’s the GM for next year.”