Harrison, NJ (Sports Network) - The New York Red Bulls find themselves in familiar territory at the start of the 2013 Major League Soccer season.
New York has never claimed an MLS Cup title and has made it to the championship match just once in its first 17 years of action. That kind of futility has seen a great deal of turnover at the coaching position, subsequently resulting in a revolving door of players coming and going.
This past offseason was no exception to the trend as Hans Backe was relieved of his coaching duties after three seasons with the club.
The Swedish tactician presided over one of the most successful eras in the history of the franchise, leading the Red Bulls to a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference in his first year before a fifth-place finish in 2011 and a third-place finish last term.
But Backe ultimately paid the price for failing to guide the Red Bulls beyond the quarterfinals of the playoffs in any of his three years and his contract was not renewed by the club.
Mike Petke, long-time servant to the club and former captain under Backe, was handed the coaching job on an interim basis before eventually being announced as the full-time boss in January.
The hiring of Petke signals a new approach being taken by the Red Bulls organization. The club has a penchant for signing coaches with some sort of tangible track record, good or bad. Backe, Juan Carlos Osorio, Bruce Arena, Mo Johnston and Bob Bradley all brought impressive resumes to the sidelines of Giants Stadium and Red Bull Arena.
But the arrival of Petke seems to fall more in line with a trend that has been gaining a great deal of momentum in MLS circles in recent years.
The Houston Dynamo, Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City all have experienced relative success in recent MLS seasons and it begins with their respective coaches.
All three clubs employ head coaches who had no previous head coaching experience. But that did not prevent Dominic Kinnear from leading the Dynamo to back-to-back MLS Cup victories in 2006 and 2007 and two straight MLS Cup appearances in 2011 and 2012. It didn't stop Jason Kreis from guiding Real Salt Lake to MLS Cup glory as a 36-year-old in 2009, becoming the youngest- ever coach to win the American title. And it didn't hinder Peter Vermes from lifting Sporting Kansas City to two successive first-place finishes in the Eastern Conference regular season in 2011 and 2012.
The icing on the cake could have been D.C. United, which under the guidance of second-year coach Ben Olsen ousted the Red Bulls from last season's playoffs.
Now, the Red Bulls have their own young coach with an intimate knowledge of the MLS system, but how far can Petke lead them?
Potentially all the way given the on-paper talent New York boasts.
The Red Bulls spent the offseason strengthening every facet of their squad to better compliment superstar Thierry Henry, adding the likes of Fabian Espindola from Real Salt Lake to partner the Frenchman up front.
Former MLS Defender of the Year Jamison Olave also made the switch from Utah to New York to solidify the center of the Red Bulls defense, while Kosuke Kimura, who helped the Colorado Rapids to an MLS Cup crown in 2010, joined the club from the Portland Timbers to add a bit more title-winning experience to the team.
New York retooled its midfield by adding former Lyon standout Juninho, who should make the Red Bulls more dangerous on set pieces given his supreme delivery from dead ball situations.
And with the likes of Tim Cahill, Heath Pearce and Lloyd Sam receiving the benefit of a full preseason to jell with teammates, New York certainly possess one of the strongest teams, man-for-man, in the league.
It will just come down to how well Petke can tie everything together and how much patience he is afforded by the organization should he struggle off the bat.
2012 in Review: The Red Bulls enjoyed a generally positive 2012 campaign as they finished third in the Eastern Conference with 57 points, but it was not without its ups and downs. The club enjoyed one of the most potent strike partnerships the league has ever seen as Thierry Henry bagged 15 goals and added 12 assists while Kenny Cooper produced 18 goals and three assists. But when the goals dried up in the playoffs, the defense, which had been quite porous over the course of the season, could not see the Red Bulls through to the Eastern Conference finals. They were eliminated in dramatic fashion as Nick DeLeon conjured a goal late in the second leg to see D.C. United advance on aggregate, 2-1.
ACQUISITIONS: Eric Alexander (M), Fabian Espindola (F), Juninho (M), Kosuke Kimura (D), Josue Martinez (F), Jamison Olave (D).
LOSSES: Kenny Cooper (F), Joel Lindpere (M), Rafa Marquez (D/M), Jan Gunnar Solli (D/M), Teemu Tainio (M).
OUTLOOK: Expectations will be high, like always, given the strength of New York's squad from top to bottom. How quickly Mike Petke is able to adapt to life as a head coach will be key, but this team oozes quality and should be able to qualify for the postseason in its sleep. But how far the Red Bulls advance is dependent upon their overall health and form down the stretch.