Real Salt Lake Hires Mike Petke as Next Head Coach

New York Red Bulls Head Coach Mike Petke shouts instructions from the sideline during the New England Revolution Vs New York Red Bulls, MLS Eastern Conference Final, second leg. Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA. 29th November 2014. Photo Tim Clayton (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Real Salt Lake have officially hired Real Monarchs head coach Mike Petke to be their new head coach. Petke takes over for Jeff Cassar, who was fired after four miserable games brought only two points to open the season. Here is Petke’s statement through the club:

“First and foremost, I want to express my gratitude to Mr. Hansen for his belief in my abilities. “My family has been excited about our return to the Rocky Mountains since Christmas; we have always been amazed by the fantastic culture for soccer here in Utah, and I am honored to be charged with delivering pride and excellence to the passionate RSL fan base.”

Real Salt Lake Hires Mike Petke as Next Head Coach

Petke was brought on to coach Real Monarchs in December and was in charge of exactly one regular season game with the club. That 2-1 win over Portland Timbers 2 was enough to secure himself a spot coaching in MLS again, apparently. This won’t be his first MLS rodeo, either. He was in charge of New York Red Bulls for a pair of seasons before Jesse Marsch was brought in. He was fired by the club after leading them to the 2014 Eastern Conference Final, where they lost to New England Revolution. He was let go that following offseason.

Coaching Upgrade

There is no doubt Real Salt Lake are upgrading their coaching staff with this move. Petke is a proven MLS winner in his short tenure at the top of the coaching ladder. He won the first major trophy in Red Bulls history with the 2013 Supporters Shield in addition to that 2014 playoff run.

The timing of those whole coaching ordeal just feels very odd. The club clearly expressed faith in Cassar over the offseason when they gave him a one year contract extension after squeaking into the playoffs last year. Yet, they also must have had their doubts when they hired the fairly successful Petke to oversee their USL side. You don’t bring in a coach with his resume unless you have grander plans for him.

It begs the question of why the club didn’t simply can Cassar over the winter and bring Petke on right away. Instead, the club is saddled with a slow start in what should be a competitive Western Conference playoff race.

Can Petke Find Goals?

Real Salt Lake’s biggest problem is getting the most out of their talented attack. Petke inherits a club that clocks in with the third worst attack in the league according to FiveThirtyEight’s club soccer prediction model. They have exactly one goal on the season and only D.C. United has fewer overall.

That is unfortunate considering the talent they have up front. Yura Movsisyan is supposed to lead the charge, but their midfield has struggled to get him chances in their first four games. Yura has scored the team’s only goal of the year and it that isn’t entirely his fault. He’s only been set up for two shots per game.

A lot of this is because he plays for the team with the lowest pass success rate in MLS this young year. Petke’s primary job will be coming up with a tactical system that allows the midfield to actually set up their goal scorer.

Having been without Joao Plata since the opening game of the season does not make things any better. Plata fired off five shots during that opening scoreless draw against Toronto. Although it’s only one game, that’s more than double the per game output of anyone else on the roster. Plata’s return to the lineup could make Petke look kike a genius without the need for any tactical innovations.

Will Petke Usher in the Youth?

To say Petke has a strong familiarity with the Real Monarchs prospects would probably be an overstatement. He only coached the team for one competitive game after getting hired just before Christmas. However, even a passing familiarity is better than nothing at all. Petke is taking over one of the oldest lineups in MLS and working with the junior team for even a few months could help the kids come up and make an impact.

It would be hard for Petke to take the reins from Jeff Cassar and perform any worse. That said, the only reason he isn’t taking over a last place team is due to Minnesota United’s historical ineptitudes and a slow start from Vancouver Whitecaps. There is still plenty of room for improvement and making the playoffs is certainly possible. RSL just hopes Mike Petke will be the right guy to salvage the slow start.


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