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Hackett: RSL Made Right Decision Firing Petke, What’s Next?

Head coach Mike Petke of New York Red Bulls watches from the sidelines against the D.C. United at Red Bull Arena on March 16, 2013 in Harrison, New Jersey. Red Bulls and DC United play to a 0-0 draw. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake terminated the contract of head coach Mike Petke effective immediately. The club made the announcement late Sunday afternoon.

Petke was fired after both Major League Soccer and Real Salt Lake investigated the actions of the now-former head coach in which he appeared to use homophobic slurs towards referee John Pitte at the conclusion of the 1-0 loss to Tigres UANL in the inaugural Leagues Cup.

Petke was placed on a three-match suspension without pay. He was scheduled to return to his managerial duties today, however, RSL ownership and management decided his time was up and that RSL is moving forward without his services.

During the suspension, RSL allocated assistant coach Freddy Juarez to take over the head coaching duties. Juarez picked up seven points from a potential nine in the three games he coached. That included a 0-0 draw at Toyota Stadium against FC Dallas, a 3-1 win at home against New York City FC and a 2-1 win at Children’s Mercy Park against Sporting Kansas City. The team played very well during that stretch and did not seem to miss their head coach.

Against FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City, RSL conceded the first goal only to come back and win. Both occasions were the first time this season that RSL has been able to do that.

The decision to fire Petke was not impacted by the success of the team during his absence, I was told by a credible source. Although, the decision was certainly made easier because of it.

After Petke lost his temper at referee John Pitti, Petke explained to the media what happened in his post-game press conference.

“I was just pulling them (his players) away. I was just telling my players to get back to the locker room,” said Petke.

“Maybe he (referee John Pitti) was still thinking about the four minutes they put up and the cat running on the field, allowing the player to take a shot on goal over ten seconds later and then for some reason giving them (Tigres) the ball back for an additional reason after all arguing without players for one minute and then stopping the match at exactly four minutes but, all that I was doing was grabbing my players,” Petke added.

Statement From The Club

“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.

“On Tuesday, July 30, after an investigation and in conjunction with Major League Soccer, the club levied the steepest sanctions ever imposed on an MLS coach when we suspended Mike Petke without pay for two weeks in addition to his three-match suspension in MLS and $25,000 fine. After further deliberations and a series of constructive discussions internally and with various members of our community, we have concluded, pursuant to his employment agreement, to immediately terminate Mike Petke’s employment.”

According to RSL Soapbox reporter Matt Montgomery, RSL owner, Del Loy Hansen, was overheard having a conversation with fans following the Utah Royals 3-1 victory last Wednesday that indicated Hansen was considering firing Petke.

“We’ve polled the millenials closely, the older fans – it’s a deep split,” Hansen said. “Millenials are almost 90 percent out, the older fans are almost 90 percent in. I’ve got two generations in this whole thing, so it’s an interesting conversation.” He continued.

“Our point is we’re weighing it, but at the end, once it’s all in, it still comes down to our values,” Hansen added.

There is your answer.

The millennials eventually won, and outweighed the older generation. Hansen is clearly putting a bigger emphasis on the future of RSL fans, as opposed to the current. The future of this club relies heavily on fans that will be attending for the years to come.

Hansen’s decision to ultimately fire Petke clearly comes as a result of how the millennial generation fans reacted to the actions of Petke following the Leagues Cup match.

Color Analyst and voice of RSL Brian Dunseth came to know Petke on a personal level. They were friends. They hosted two podcasts together where they frequently discussed matters that were far bigger than the game of soccer. Dunseth, through the powers of social media, submitted a statement on his friends firing:

What The Firing Means

The Petke firing is an interesting conversation. RSL is clearly sending a message. They will “hold their coaches, players, executives and staff to the highest standards of professionalism”.

Petke’s actions were not in line with what they stand for and their core values were disregarded by the former coach.

The response from fans also had an impact on the decision. With fans openly expressing their disdain with how Petke represented himself and more importantly, the club.

If you are in a position of power, you have to control your emotions. We have seen that over the years, through the eyes of social media that if you act out of line, people will see it. Your every move is tracked and criticized accordingly.

What’s Next For RSL?

Freddy Juarez will take over as interim head coach. RSL will start their search for a new head coach, although there is a possibility that Freddy Juarez takes over the reins full time. That all depends on how he performs as head coach during his interim stint.

Real Salt Lake has a very difficult schedule ahead of them as they try to solidify a playoff spot. It starts with 4 games in just as many days with home games against the second-best team in the West the Seattle Sounders coming into town this Wednesday and the number one team in the West LAFC coming to Rio Tinto Stadium this Saturday.

Currently, RSL sits in 6th place in the West with 37 points. Just one point clear of FC Dallas who sits on the playoff line in 7th and two points behind the 2nd place Seattle Sounders.

Who Could Replace Petke?

Freddy Juarez, you would assume, is the man that will take over the duties long term. However, his future is dependent on the success of the team throughout the remaining 10 regular-season games and playoff fixture.

My good friend and co-host of RSL’s official podcast “The Lions Den” Spencer Warne threw out a few names that could potentially be RSL’s new manager if the club is willing to spend some money on a quality coach.

Pablo Machin has been coaching since 2000 and was recently the head coach of La Liga club Sevilla. Over the course of his 18-year coaching career, Machin has a 43 percent winning percentage.

Giovanni Van Bronckhorst was recently let go by Dutch club Feyenoord despite winning 60 percent of games in which he was in charge. The established left-back/midfielder had an illustrious playing career spending time at the likes of Arsenal and Barcelona. He also represented the Netherlands on the international level, making 106 appearances for the Orange.

Quique Sanchez Flores has managed 11 clubs since hanging up the boots in 1997. As a player, Flores played for top-flight Spanish clubs Valencia and Real Madrid before ending his career at Zaragoza. He also notched 15 appearances with the Spanish national team. His managerial career started at Getafe in 2004. During his career, he has taken charge of top-flight European and Asian clubs such as Valencia, Benfica, Atletico Madrid, Watford and more recently Shanghai Shenhua of the Chinese top division. He holds a 43 percent winning percentage.

Stefano Pioli played center back over his 16-year playing career. The Italian started coaching in 2003 and has since taken charge of 12 clubs. The more notable clubs include Parma, Palermo, Bologna, Lazio, Internazionale and Fiorentina. He has a 37 percent winning percentage.

Rudi Garcia is a French native who got into coaching back in 1994 when he took over his local club I’ASCE. He has climbed the ranks and has recently managed Roma and Marseille. He holds a 47 percent winning percentage over his long career.

I wish whoever ends up filling Petke’s shoes, whether it is Jaurez or someone from the outside, the best of luck.

RSL Schedule
09/12/2020 @ 7:00 pm
FC Cincinnati
Real Salt Lake
09/19/2020 @ 8:00 pm
Real Salt Lake
San Jose
09/26/2020 @ 8:30 pm
Real Salt Lake
10/04/2020 @ 2:30 pm
Los Angeles FC
Real Salt Lake
Western Conf. Standings
W-L-T Pts.
Los Angeles FC
21-4-9 72
16-10-8 56
Real Salt Lake
16-13-5 53
15-11-8 53
Los Angeles
16-15-3 51
14-13-7 49
FC Dallas
13-12-9 48
San Jose
13-16-5 44
12-16-6 42
12-18-4 40
Sporting Kansas City
10-16-8 38
8-16-10 34