A few minutes with Red Bulls’ Mike Petke

Mike Petke, the first-year New York head coach who played for both the Red Bulls and D.C. United during a 13-year career, shared his thoughts during a media conference call about the clubs’ deep-rooted rivalry and other topics ahead of the clash this Saturday in Harrison, N.J. (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC main network).

“It’s something I have been on both sides of at certain points in my career, so I understand both mentalities going into it. It’s a great affair to open up our season at home.”

Do you feel the level of intensity and passion in the rivalry is the same as ever?

“Absolutely. That feeling has never left, no matter what my position is. I have been fortunate to be on both sides of it and see the complexities and see the feelings that go into both sides. I can tell you today’s training session is going to be amped up, not only for me but the players as well, sensing it. I don’t want to say there is a hatred. For us, there is definitely a respect — on both sides, I would assume. You take pride playing your biggest rivals. I know they will come out flying and I can assure you we will come out flying.”

The mentality in a bitter rivalry…..

“For me, with the history we have had since ’98 when I was playing, when we played D.C., the level always gets turned up a notch. The level should always be up no matter who you play, but the history of it — D.C. being one of the most successful franchises, New York has had a bit of a chip on our shoulder, which we should. Always putting an extra tackle in. The fans are all over you — they travel with a large contingent — saying some stuff. Looking back at the days of Etcheverry, Moreno, Pope, Richie Williams, John Harkes — they would always put an extra tackle in, always. Same on our side. Hatred is a strong word, but pride almost.

“If you look at a real derby around the world, teams are 10 miles apart from each other. Here, since the beginning of the league, this is our closest competitor, which is a six-hour drive [in terrible traffic, perhaps]. It’s just something deep down in your heart, in your soul that I always hated D.C. United. For what reason? Because they were our rivals. It was set in stone when I came on in ’98. You built up a hatred, you built up emotions. It has continued, whether there are 1,500 people in the crowd or 25,000. For me, it has never changed. I look around in the eyes of the players over the years, with them as well, they have learned to be a part of this rivalry.”

He also addressed…..

Roy Miller‘s gaffe last weekend — entering the box too early, nullifying Luis Robles‘ save on a late penalty kick — and whether the club has learned its lesson after violating the same rule against DCU in the playoffs last season…..

“Players at many times throughout the game have mental lapses. It’s a 90-minute game. Everyone has them. Some of them make your team pay, some of them [don't]. This one had a direct effect on the result. It happens. What can you say? Three basic rules that I know of on a penalty kick: Wait until the referee tells you that you are allowed to kick it, goalkeeper is not allowed to step forward before the ball is struck, and you can’t encroach in the box. Is that something we have to work on every week? I would like to think not. I am not here pointing fingers. It was a player with a mental lapse, and it has happened to all of us. I hope we have learned our lesson finally.”

…..the advantages of playing at Red Bull Arena…..

“When we have a full crowd, the intimacy of the overhead that echoes the noise, definitely helps us out. Our South Ward is phenomenal. They are very intimidating. It’s a feeling for me to drive up to Red Bull Arena, to see that arena, there is a comfort level knowing you are playing there today in front of your home crowd in an environment you are very comfortable in. I’ve talked to many players and coaches around the league since 2010, and to hear their thoughts on how intimidating is and what a wonderful environment it is, it just knocks on the cliche of the 12th man. It’s a definite advantage for us just like, say, in Portland it’s an advantage for them. RFK in a way. They’ve got the Screaming Eagles on their side with the bleachers that seem to have hydraulics on them, jumping up and down. … I like to put ours up against any one in the league.”

…..and whether he misses being a player since retirement after the 2010 season…..

“Of course, that is not going to leave my mind until I am hitting the grave at hopefully 90, 95 years old.”

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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Steven Goff · March 12, 2013