How does a franchise replace an icon? For starters, pinpoint a successor and hope they can replicate much of what the previous stalwart achieved.
That’s where Real Salt Lake finds itself a day after former head coach (and former RSL player) Jason Kreis announced he was leaving Utah to coach New York City FC. The expansion team, Major League Soccer’s 20th franchise, will begin play in 2015.
And the process has already begun. The Salt Lake Tribune has learned that former RSL assistant coach Robin Fraser and current assistant Jeff Cassar are in the running for the job.
Fraser, 46, worked under Kreis from 2007 to 2010 before leaving to become the head coach at Chivas USA, where he lasted two seasons. Fraser spent last season as an assistant coach for the New York Red Bulls.
Cassar, 39, has been an RSL assistant since 2007.
Both candidates are Major League Soccer veterans. Fraser played in the league as a defender from 1996-05 and Cassar as a goalkeeper from 1996-06. Cassar also played one season in the English Premier League, with Bolton.
RSL president Bill Manning says the club is in a good position to reel in a solid replacement, thanks to the foundation that has been laid in Sandy. RSL made the MLS playoffs six consectuive seasons under Kreis, winning the MLS Cup in 2009 and coming up short in last Sunday’s Cup final in Kansas City, where Real fell to Sporting KC on penalty kicks. The team also reached the finals of CONCACAF and the U.S. Open Cup.
“One thing that is not lost on us at all is that we still have a darn good team. This is a team that can win now,” Manning said.
RSL has identified two primary candidates, according Manning. Meetings have already taken place and others are expected to be scattered through the remainder of the week. The team expects to its new coach by the end of next week.
Manning declined to name the candiates, but it is clear that the search for a new coach kicked into gear almost immediately after the MLS Cup final — days before Kreis announced he was leaving.
When RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey landed in Salt Lake City on Sunday, he stepped onto another plane to interview a candidate at one of RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen’s homes.
“We had to prepare two plans all along,” Lagerwey said.
Manning says the key to the search will be finding a coach who understands RSL’s system and its players.
“If anything, with this group of guys, they were a group that liked to play with a chip on their shoulder a little bit, and maybe some of that had to do with Jason, but I think the guys are looking at this as a challenge and saying let’s prove that we’re a great organization and we can win a heck of a lot of soccer games with a new coach in place,” Manning said.
Lagerwey said the goal is to hire a new coach by the end of next week, “There’s a lot of balloons in the air right now, and we’re trying to go through it in an orderly fashion.”
How ever it plays out, RSL officials know they have large shoes to fill.
“I would be remiss to say losing Jason isn’t going to be a challenge; it will be,” Lagerwey said. “I think if we can get it right on the coaching hire, there will be a lot of reasons to be excited next year.”
RSL captain Kyle Beckerman addressed the looming changes Monday during RSL’s end-of-the-year physicals. Losing Kreis would be difficult, he said. But Beckerman noted that because of the foundation Kreis built, his replacment should be successful.
“It’s just the evolution of the club, I think,” Beckerman said. “[Jason is] going to be a part of that, he’s part of the fabric of this club no matter where he is.”
A closer look
Age • 46
Playing position • Defender
Playing career • MLS, 1996-2005
Coaching career • Real Sal Lake, assistant (2007-2010), Chivas USA, head coach (2011-2012), New York Red Bulls, assistant (2013).
Age • 39
Playing position • Goalkeeper
Playing career • MLS, 1996-2006, EPL, 2002 (Bolton Wanderers).
Coaching career • Real Salt Lake, assistant (2007-current).