Red Bulls go back to the future

Head coach Hans Backe celebrates the Red Bulls clinching a spot in the playoffs with a win over Philadelphia.

A smirk comes across the face of Red Bulls assistant coach Mike Petke when asked about the 2000 MetroStars — perhaps the most storied team in franchise history.

Petke was in his third year in the league, playing for a team now known as the Red Bulls, but then simply known as Metro to the team’s hardcore fans.

It was a year of firsts for a MetroStars side that went from a league-worst 7-25 record a season before to their first Eastern Conference title in 2000. They eventually took their first ever playoff series, sweeping Dallas in two games. They had a brash, “take no prisoners” mentality that won over fans. Petke, who had dyed blonde hair back then and always sported a Breathe-Right strip across his nose, remembers those days fondly.

“We had a confidence, a swagger maybe, a cockiness that perhaps we didn’t deserve or earn yet,” Petke told Metro. “We felt like we could win any game and maybe that wasn’t deserved, but it was a special team and a special feeling. After that series and beating Dallas, I felt like we could beat anyone and go to MLS Cup.”

It wasn’t meant to be for Petke and the MetroStars, who lost in three games in the Eastern Conference finals to Chicago. It was a playoff series considered to this day among the best in league history, with the MetroStars throwing star players such as Clint Mathis, Adolfo Valencia, Mark Chung, Lothar Matthaus, Thomas Dooley and Petke against a juggernaut Fire team. The team didn’t win another playoff series until 2008, when they advanced to their only MLS Cup final to date.

Petke is now an assistant coach with the Red Bulls and works extensively with the younger players on the team. Things come full circle for him and New York this week.

Now tonight, against FC Dallas, the Red Bulls will hope to rekindle some of the magic of the 2000 season when they travel to Pizza Hut Park for a one-game wild card playoff game. FC Dallas was MLS Cup runner-ups last year and one of the best teams in the league the past two seasons. A Red Bulls team that squeaked into the 10th and final playoff spot will face a difficult task on the road.

“There is a lot of talent on that team, a lot of very good players. Brek Shea, Marvin Chavez, my old teammate Danny Hernandez, George John, there is a lot of talent there — a very good team,” Petke said. “I think we were favored in 2000, even after the season we had the year before, to beat Dallas. This time, this is a great team we face. It will be tough.”

Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for extensive coverage of the New York Red Bulls.


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