BY DAVE MARTINEZ
If anyone knows a thing or two about losing your head in the heat of a match, it’s New York Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke.
Is it any surprise, then, that he feels a little compassion for Juninho? The 38-year-old playmaker lost his cool in the waning minutes of last Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat to Sporting Kansas City, kicking a dead ball in the penalty area at goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
The infraction earned Juninho a red card, but MLS saw fit to expand his punishment with an extra game and an undisclosed fine late on Monday, a decision Petke was not entirely thrilled about for a number of reasons.
“I understand Juninho, you know? I understand what happened,” Petke told reporters during his Tuesday conference call. “Mr. Nielsen obviously doesn’t keep it a secret that he can milk the clock with the best of them and I take my hat off to him for that, to be honest with you. He’s a seasoned vet and he knows how to work the system a little bit.”
“The funny thing to me is that Juninho is 15 yards away and toe-pokes the ball at a goalkeeper, a professional goalkeeper, and he hits him in the face or whatever and he goes down like a rock. Again, that’s his gamesmanship in a way.”
While Petke understands the need for the initial red card, the added penalty handed out by the league’s Disciplinary Committee left the Red Bulls coach scratching his head.
“I personally thought one would be enough,” said Petke. “If he had blasted it as hard as he could and hit him, then I’d understand that. But to essentially toe-poke the ball back to get the game going because he’s been wasting time, and for him to go down like that? Hey, he fooled everybody, so I guess that’s where the two games come from.”
Juninho will serve the second game of his suspension during this weekend’s Toronto FC match and will not be available until May 5th against the Columbus Crew.
NEWS AND NOTES
- - On Kevin Hartman: “Hartman is still coming along, still working hard, (but) not exactly there yet.” The soon to be 39 year old keeper was acquired by New York last month in order to shore up their depth at keeper. He also serves as a Goalkeeping Development Manager, tasked with coaching the young keepers on the roster and in the team’s academy program.
- On Ryan Meara’s improving health: “Ryan is making strides. He is doing more everyday. He is looking better and sharper everyday and I think he’s not very far off being back fully competitive.”
- - While the goalkeeper corps continues to nurse its way back to health, forward Peguy Luyindula is near ready to make a return for the Red Bulls as well. “He is definitely on course for selection against Toronto,” said Petke. “If we felt we desperately needed him for New England, he would have been available on the bench but we felt comfortable in that situation that we could do without him. (It) gives him extra time to get fitness, to continue the healing process and I believe starting (Wednesday), he will be in, if not full training, at least three quarters. He is pretty much there.”