Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke was fired by the team Sunday, a little over two weeks after his meltdown at the end of his team’s 1–0 loss to Tigres UANL in the Leagues Cup. Between then and now Petke was hit with three different suspensions plus a fine over the incident, which was notable both for its profane homophobia and for its multimedia presentation.
Turns out a frisky feline pitch invader may have set in motion the sequence of events that ended with Petke’s firing. RSL players and coaches were unhappy about a couple of things, among them Brooks Lennon’s 84th-minute red card, but apparently what really set Petke off was the action that immediately followed the appearance of the feline daredevil:
Petke then admitted to his frustrations about [referee Joe Pitti]’s handling of, among other things, the surreal pitch invasion by a cat.
“Perhaps he was still thinking about the four minutes they put up, the cat running on the field, him allowing the player to take a shot on goal 10 seconds later and for some reason giving them the ball back and the additional reason of, after all that, arguing with our players, which took close to a minute, stopping the game at exactly four minutes.
After the final whistle, Petke shook hands with the opposing head coach and then marched to midfield, where he almost immediately started in on the three officials. Pitti endured a moment or two of this and then hit Petke with a red card of his own, which only seemed to elicit more invective:
Petke was suspended by all of MLS, Leagues Cup, and RSL over the rant, which reportedly featured repeated use of a Spanish language homophobic slur. The longest of these suspensions—RSL’s two-week ban, which prohibited any contact with the club and required anger management classes—apparently gave the club time to complete a “process of review,” which according to owner Dell Loy Hansen ultimately led to the decision to can Petke for good.
That decision becomes a lot less controversial the more you know about the meltdown itself. In fact, given the particulars of what happened after everyone left the pitch, it’s a little bit surprising that it took Hansen this long to decide he had the wrong guy running his soccer team. From a report from the Salt Lake Tribune:
After RSL lost to Tigres, Petke was seen yelling at referees vociferously after receiving a red card. It was later revealed that Petke had repeatedly hurled a homophobic slur to the referees both on the field and in the tunnel of Rio Tinto Stadium shortly afterward. He also confronted the referees in the tunnel with a handwritten sign that displayed the slur.
RSL captain and USMNT veteran Kyle Beckerman insisted in a radio appearance Monday that Petke is not a bigot, and that he was merely “trying to stand up for” his players before things “got out of hand,” but that defense becomes a lot less credible as you imagine Petke working up a handwritten sign in the tunnel, whole minutes after the match had ended, in order to double down on the slur that got him red-carded in the first place. If nothing else, extending him a huge benefit of the doubt, Petke has a really bad temper and an extremely underdeveloped vocabulary. Needless to say, the kind of person who will deploy signage in order to taunt referees with homophobic slurs is not someone who should be in a position of authority for a professional soccer team.
According to a report from The Athletic, Petke was offered the opportunity to resign “several days before he was fired,” and the resignation “would’ve netted the former manager a payout in the low six-figures.” Petke was fired soon after he declined that option Sunday night, and RSL reportedly “expects Petke to fight for the salary remaining on his contract, which ran through the 2020 season.”