Dell Loy Hansen is a smart, savvy man who has taken a lot of risks and made more money than King Farouk by being and doing both.
But his first major gamble as sole owner of Real Salt Lake is going to cost him more cake than it would have had he bet the other way, and it could cost him one of the pillars upon which the club’s success has been built.
If RSL loses Jason Kreis as its coach, it will be Hansen’s fault.
When he took complete control of RSL from founder Dave Checketts in January, there were all kinds of issues — on and off the pitch — to address. And Hansen got a lot of those matters handled. On the competition side, the team was in flux, swapping out key veteran players, upon whose feet the winning of the past had been achieved, for younger guys on the rise who hadn’t really done anything yet. And nobody knew exactly how that trade, that transition was going to work out for Real.
Kreis was entering the final year of his contract, and it became clear that if the coach was going to be re-signed sooner rather than later, it would be at a favorably convenient price for ownership. Hansen decided he would sit back and see what the coach could do with a rebuilding project rather than make Kreis the offer he deserved up front and get that business taken care of.
It never would have come to that had Checketts still been involved. The former owner and Kreis had a close relationship, and it was Checketts who thought highly enough of Kreis to lure him out of his playing career to take over as the team’s leader. Kreis was all of 34 at the time. The two handled their contract talks personally. It was direct and tidy. Checketts knew what he had and would have locked it up early.
Hansen didn’t — and didn’t.
The new boss, whose relationship with the coach was at an acquaintance level, rolled the dice in the face of uncertainty, essentially saying to Kreis: Show me what you’ve got. Prove it to me.
Kreis has done exactly that — piloting that unproven group to the top, or near the top, of the league standings this season. And here’s the resultant problem: He’s shown everybody else what he’s got, too. He’s proving it in plain view of a big, wide soccer world out there, a world that always is interested in a bright young coach who knows how to win.
Kreis knows that and more.
And this is where Hansen, something of a soccer novice who had been on the fringes for a few years, could and should have been more dialed in to make a better bet.
What he didn’t know was more than he knew.
What he didn’t know was how important a coach is to a locker room, the effects he has on not only the team’s competitive success, but on operations throughout a club. If Kreis were to leave, there’s no telling how that would affect others, such as team general manager Garth Lagerwey, whose deal extends through next season, or team president Bill Manning, whose contract has two more years on it. At some point, once RSL’s winning continued, an offer was given to Kreis, but it was considerably too low.
Kreis had earned a more lucrative deal, and he was well aware.
Under his leadership, alongside Lagerwey, the club had risen up from an embarrassment to become a consistent winner in one of the smallest markets in the league. He’d won the MLS Cup. He’d taken the club to virgin territory in CONCACAF play. He’d filled Rio Tinto Stadium by providing a team worth watching. Hansen had no way of knowing it before the season started, but Kreis even pulled in a sellout home crowd on a night when the state’s biggest football rivalry game was being played.
Back when the club first was established in Salt Lake, when it was stumbling and bumbling, losing games in almost every conceivable fashion, before Kreis became the coach, few would have believed such an achievement possible.
Since he took over in 2008, Kreis has won more games than any other coach in Major League Soccer, except for Bruce Arena.
Now, one way or the other, he’s about to get paid like Arena, too. He’s become a hot coaching commodity.
The New York City Football Club, an expansion team that begins MLS play in 2015 and is owned by the same people who control Manchester City FC in the English Premier League, is interested in Kreis. That management, led by Sheik Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, not only has pockets deeper than a thousand oil wells, it also has an NYCFC partnership with the New York Yankees.
They just might be able to afford Kreis as their coach.
Not only that, but with NYCFC’s connections to Man City, whoever coaches the former will have a relationship, a pipeline to the latter, potentially providing an opportunity for that coach to move on up the chain.
Kreis already has flown to England to meet with Manchester City FC and New York City FC officials.
Remember, all this could have been avoided.
But now Kreis is listening.
He’s an ambitious man who’s always had big dreams and felt a little disrespected, going back to his playing days when as a junior forward he was left uninvited to national teams. Even while he was becoming MLS’ erstwhile all-time leading goal scorer, Kreis never made the U.S. national team’s roster, again feeling snubbed, never having the chance to play in a World Cup.
In 2006, he told me: “It’s the biggest disappointment of my career. Playing in the World Cup is the penultimate goal — to play there and represent your country. … I honestly feel I was never given the right number of opportunities. There was a time when I was very bitter about it. I was frustrated. Now it’s a disappointment, but I leave it alone.”
The higher Kreis’ profile grows nationally, or internationally, the better his chances become of doing something those close to him say he would love to do: coach the USMNT, coach it at the World Cup that he missed as a player.
If NYCFC makes him a big offer, Kreis then must wrestle through his own priorities. It’s not a tomahawk dunk, in either direction. He met with Hansen last week and will meet with him again this week to continue their discussions. RSL is conjuring an offer that would make Kreis the second-highest paid coach in MLS. Arena makes around $1 million a year with the Galaxy. Seattle’s Sigi Schmid makes around $700,000. Kreis’ offer from RSL likely will be somewhere between the two.
On the one hand, Kreis seems genuinely connected to RSL. He was signed as the team’s first-ever player in 2005. He has led and lifted the club to new heights, establishing it as a model for other MLS teams to follow. He has power and control with Real that he never would have in New York. He’s presently re-modeling an 8,000-square-foot home in Park City, and one of his kids is about to enter high school there. He’s grown to love his life in Utah.
On the other, ambition and opportunity are batting their eyes at him, puckering their lips, standing in silhouette in a backlit doorway, turning an ankle and whispering his name.
Nobody knows what Kreis will do.
Here’s what everybody does know: Had RSL made him a decent offer before the season started, he already would be theirs.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.