Staring out at the recently snow-capped valley from his top-floor office in downtown Salt Lake City, Dell Loy Hansen addressed several topics regarding his time as owner of Real Salt Lake in a 38-minute interview with the Tribune.
Several topics were broached, including the status of RSL head coach Jason Kreis and where his contract negotiations stand leading into the dwindling days of the 2013 Major League Soccer season. Hansen spoke about the 48 hours before he bought into the team in 2009, 48 hours before RSL beat Colorado on the last day of the regular season, a win that catapulted RSL into the playoffs as the franchise went on to win three cups that in a two-month span.
Hansen said there was a stretch from 2009 on where he saw 27 RSL matches and never saw a loss; the owner, who gave two reporters elbow taps due to carrying a lingering cold, spoke of his first full year as sole owner of the franchise and how the off-season acquisitions allowed the RSL midfield to become more potent in the attack.
The most pressing issue regarding the organization — outside of Saturday’s MLS Cup final at Sporting Park — is Kreis. Noted as one of the best coaches in American soccer, Kreis’ contract runs dry when RSL’s season ends, with or without another MLS Cup. Hansen said the last official negotiations came just before RSL’s 1-0 loss to lowly D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup final on Oct. 1. After that, Hansen said Kreis asked to wait until the season ended to figure things out.
“We’re in communication appropriately,” Hansen said. “This is not the time. [Jason] would say it, I would say it. We have plenty of time.”
“He has a great offer from our side that he will more-fully evaluate after the season,” Hansen added soon after.
Hansen called Kreis “a very good friend,” adding the two have admiration for one another. The lucid RSL owner said he and Kreis often exchange text messages regarding different matters and find themselves in offices at Rio Tinto Stadium chatting about various topics.
But Hansen brought up an analogy he circled back to several times.
“I trust Jason will make the very best decision for his family and what mountain he needs to climb,” he explained. “He’s climbed some pretty big mountains.”
“Jason is remarkable,” Hansen continued. “The cool part being Jason at this point in his career, at 40, having six years to the playoffs — no one’s done more — having competed now twice for the national cup — if he wins, he’ll be one of five — you have to stand back and say, ‘What’s his next mountain?’ And I honestly think if we win, and CONCACAF [Champions League] is possible, I think that gives us a teetering edge that there’s an objective for him to accomplish.
“I think as you get to be a great man, and Jason early in his life is, you start saying, ‘What mountains are there for me to climb?’ I really think it is that — I don’t think it’s a money issue whatsoever. I think it’s what mountains can you put in front of me? Maybe one of Jason’s goals is he wants to be men’s national team coach some time. What resume do you need to build to do that? I give Jason a lot of credit, he’s very thoughtful about how he does it. He’s totally focused on the game — he’ll think about that after the game.”
I asked Hansen’s opinion of what it is about Kreis that has lent to such a critical turnaround for a franchise that was once one of the several downtrodden clubs in MLS. His answer was convincing.
“He’s singularly-focused like no other man I’ve ever met,” Hansen said. “If that’s his goal, very little gets in his way. He does not see what’s going around, he sees the goal. That’s unique, because most people seem to see the periphery that’s happening around them. He doesn’t. He’s hyper-competitive, very quiet, very thoughtful, his words are well-chosen, he is absolutely devoted to the team. He believes if the gives them his absolute devotion, care and every resource that they will do the same.”
Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated reported on Twitter Monday that a source said Kreis was “almost 100%” to becoming the new coach of MLS’ 2015 expansion team New York City FC. Kreis told the media not too long after: “I have no response. It’s the same response I’ve had for the last eight weeks ... at least; two to three months now my focus is on this team, it will continue to be on this team and this club and doing everything I can for the next five days. Then after that I’ll go into hiding for three days and try and make a decision.”
“The good part is, [Jason’s] built a system that a number of people know who to replicate and have worked with it,” Hansen continued. “So we feel that we’ve got options both directions, the best being Jason and that’s where I think it’ll be.”
In changing subjects, I asked Hansen if he still stood behind his word of ponying up for players, both currently on the roster and potential players in the future. He immediately snapped his fingers.
“If we can get a DP [snaps his fingers] we’re there,” he said. “We’re building our resources and from a team that was losing money to a team that now has a net profit, that gives us resources. And from the day I looked at this, the team with the most resources will have the propensity to win because you may be able to get a DP or hold a player or hold a coach or hold something that the economic necessities would require.”
When asked if high-profile players are up his alley, Hansen came back with: “I’ve told [the front office], ‘Go find me the best. Go find me Robbie Keane, and I’m in.’”
Hansen’s favorite story of RSL’s 1-0 win at JELD-WEN Field on Nov. 24, a win that put RSL back in MLS Cup was his embrace with defender Nat Borchers.
“Nat Borchers and his beard came up to me with fire in his eyes and said, ‘I love taking a win on somebody else’s field. It was just like a Viking had come onto that field, and was not going to let it go,” he said.
Hansen said he sees several similarities between the 2009 team and this year’s team, but returned to the analogy of the Vikings — not the Minnesota kind — in saying he’s enjoying the approach the group is taking into each game.
“A group of war veterans, I see,” he said. “That these guys essentially the same core line for the five playoffs that I’ve been there. They want it more this year than they wanted it at any time. It was kind of magical, it was a Cinderella story in ’09. This is the Vikings landing in Kansas City and saying, ‘This is ours to take and we’re going to take it home.’
“If the soccer Gods smile well, we’ll haul back the second national championship to Salt Lake in five years.”
I’ll post another blog tomorrow — presumably dubbed Part 2 — of our sit-down with RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen.