SANDY — Mike Petke is a New Yorker at heart, and his current role as head coach of Utah’s Major League Soccer outfit takes him away from visiting the nation’s capital much.
But Petke’s history with Washington, D.C. — and D.C. United, in particular — is there.
The 42-year-old Real Salt Lake coach played for D.C. United as an up-and-coming center back from 2003-05, scoring five goals in 58 appearances during the six years he spent away from the New York Red Bulls organization (or the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, as they were called from 1998-2002).
During his time with D.C., Petke even won an MLS Cup — in 2004, when he also teamed up with the team’s defensive midfielder, Ben Olsen. The two are among Major League Soccer's current trend of young coaches, joining others like Jason Kreis, 45, in Orlando and Gregg Berhalter, 44, in Columbus, to name a few.
Olsen — or "Benny," as Petke still calls him — spent his entire MLS career with D.C. United (currently 1-4-2 and last in the Eastern Conference), leaving just once on loan to England’s Nottingham Forest during the 2001 season. He scored 29 goals in 221 appearances for D.C. United, and has led the side as head coach since 2010.
"He’s someone that I really enjoy talking to," Petke said. "Benny has done a very good job in his tenure with what he’s had to work with."
Ben Olsen is D.C. United, in many ways.
"Ben was an honest, scrappy, very talented player," Petke said. "You can tell in his teams, they’ve adapted a lot of his personality. If you give Ben two sticks and some grass, he’ll make a goal out of it."
Petke and Olsen also played with a young shot stopper named Nick Rimando tending the net. Rimando is now Petke’s No. 1 goalkeeper at Real Salt Lake (3-5-1), and when the duo face their former club Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium (KSL.com, KSL TV app), the MLS all-time leading goalkeeper will have a shot at the 200th win of his career.
At age 42 and in just the sixth year of his head coaching tenure, Petke still understands the “player’s mindset” and the mentality of day-to-day training and long season stretches.
"You keep a distance, but it’s just a respect thing," RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said. "He’s the head coach, so he gives us our space and the guys who knew him before give him his space as well. It’s a collective effort, but he’s the head coach — he has the final say."
Saturday is the only home match in a six-game span, and comes after the club lost back-to-back games for the first time in 2018 with a 3-1 defeat at Orlando City.
For all of Salt Lake’s 3-1 home record, the club is still just 0-4-1 on the road. A win on the weekend, then, is that much more important.
"We're still figuring it out," Beckerman said. "But I take a lot of positives from the last game. We’re a young group, so we’re learning a lot on the go. Scoring goals helps to do that, but it’s tough being in the thick of things.
"We'll learn from it, and maybe play a little more conservative when we get the lead and notice we’ve been getting after it with the second goal not coming."