Let’s start by getting the name right. It’s Cassar, as in Jeff Cassar. It’s pronounced Kass-AWR. It’s not Caesar, as in Julius. It’s not KASS-er, as in Momma Cass or potato casserole. It’s Jeff Kass-AWR. You have the same Ja-Ka alliteration, but … it’s not Jason Kreis, as in making six straight MLS playoff appearances.
That old name is vapor now, gone to pop kippers and pork pie and hang out at Man City for a year while assembling his affiliated MLS expansion football club in New York.
Jeffrey Cassar’s duty is to stay right here and eat fry sauce and keep Real Salt Lake’s train on the tracks, rolling forward — although he said he’s set his sights a little higher. Introduced on Thursday at Rio Tinto Stadium as the new leading man for RSL, he isn’t exactly the new guy in town. He’s been here almost from the beginning, cloaked for a while in the far reaches of the coaching closet before becoming Kreis’ No. 1 assistant a few years back. The 39-year-old former goalkeeper — he once split time as the starter with current RSL GM Garth Lagerwey in Miami, and eventually lost the job to current RSL GK Nick Rimando — has been at Real through so many of its undulations, its disappointments and, most importantly, its triumphs.
And that’s the major reason he’s been given the helm now.
And a second: hunger.
He not only knows the players on a roster that made it to the MLS Cup final this past season, that came within one sliding chip shot of winning the whole thing for the second time in four years, and that will largely remain the same this next season, he knows those players’ strengths and weaknesses, their tendencies and idiosyncrasies, their superstitions and what they eat for lunch.
He knows all of that, probably more than the players now wish he knew. And he knows the culture that Kreis and Lagerwey worked so hard to create here — because he was standing right alongside throughout.
And Cassar wants to push harder.
“We’re going to push on, not just keep pushing, but do even better,” he said. “I’m going to take charge.”
That was a bit of an issue for Cassar, whose reputation coming in was one of … well, kind of a meathead. Not in a stupid sense, rather as just one of the fellas, one of the lugs, as a congenial man who likes to hang out and be a regular guy.
His wife, Jennifer, said if Jeff could “come back in another life as anyone, he would come back as Ron Burgundy. He loves that character. He loves Will Ferrell. We’ve watched ‘Elf’ a thousand times. He just likes funny movies.”
Cassar, though, said that while he can have a good time, that he can relate to players, that he is a player’s coach, he also can be tough when he has to be: “When the time comes to be stern, I have no problem with that.”
He also said he and Kreis, who was notoriously fastidious and persnickety when it came to paying attention to small, demanding details, are “very much alike” in their coaching philosophies. They both love aggressive soccer, a high-tempo, high-possession brand of offense, without giving away careless goals.
“Nothing changes,” Lagerwey said, although the general manager added that, while RSL is hungry for more success, Cassar might be hungrier than anyone in the organization. “That’s one of the reasons he got the job.”
There are two ways, then, to look at this: 1) By losing Kreis and elevating Cassar, RSL is simply down a man, having already had in hand the benefits that Cassar brings by way of his promotion before the promotion came, or 2) By staying with Cassar, Real keeps the positives previously established, without much disruption, but freshens those themes through the personal lens of a new lead view, and via the drive of a new energy source and a loud voice.
RSL seems convinced that it made the right move.
So is Cassar.
Owner Dell Loy Hansen said he asked the team’s veterans whom they wanted as their new coach. “It was unanimous,” he said.
The passion runs both directions. The plumbing in Cassar’s eyes backed up during his press conference, when he described his hiring as “an opportunity of a lifetime. … Every time I think about it, I start to cry.”
RSL hopes he’s the only one crying as the team moves on.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.