All’s quiet on the Real Salt Lake front, which feels kind of bizarre in what was a whirlwind final four weeks of the club’s 2013 Major League Soccer season.
Jason Kreis is gone, a move many anticipated as he took a job impossible to pass up for a young, successful and aspiring 40-year-old American coach at New York City FC. The analogy RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen used in our sit-down interview three days before MLS Cup rings truer every day. Kreis, a man whose always been keen on breaking down barriers, found a higher mountain he’ll attempt to summit.
Which leaves RSL in relative limbo.
While the 2013 year was a positive in so many ways for the club, it was also downright brutal to a side so close to so many big things, but came up short each time. Dave Checketts moved on, RSL lost the Open Cup final 1-0 to lowly D.C. United — at home, no less — before losing the MLS Cup final in 20 penalty kicks. Throw in Kreis bolting and RSL missing out on CONCACAF Champions League due to a qualifying rule change by CONCACAF and U.S. Soccer and 2013 will be recalled as the memorable and the merciless.
So what will the next chapter of this franchise read like, and more importantly, who will be leading the way on the bench?
RSL has essentially narrowed its coaching search down to two candidates in former RSL assistant Robin Fraser and current RSL assistant Jeff Cassar.
As noted by both RSL president Bill Manning and RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey last week, no coach is going to replace Kreis.
"As good a coach and as strong a personality Jason was, the team is greater," Manning said. "We still have a large part of this team that is with Real Salt Lake. We feel excited about the new prospects. [Jason] was the face of the franchise. He was a big core of this franchise. The good thing is I got a guy named Garth Lagerwey here, a pretty talented guy that sits across the way from me here in the office. Certainly, Garth has not missed a beat and he won’t miss a beat."
Who will Lagerwey, Manning and Hansen tab as the club’s third head coach in franchise history?
Remains to be seen, but Lagerwey said piecing the team together is the most arduous and taxing process. But he’s revamped the club and has helped shape the future while contending in the present.
"I think that again, the team is the star, and it started with Jason. It’s become an organizational ethos and I do think that’s the framework to succeed hopefully in a transition," Lagerwey said. "The hardest piece is getting talented players. I feel really good about our group from a talent perspective."
Manning had one of the more intriguing quotes during our talk, when he said coaches are important, but the core of the team must be talented enough to be a force on the field each season.
"I don’t want to say this without hesitation: Jason is a really good coach, right? He’s proved he can get the most out of this team," Manning explained. "But I will always say this, a coach can only be successful if he has really good players. A great coach without good players won’t win many games."
So whoever it may be has a cupboard full of skilled stars and eager youngsters as evidenced by RSL’s 2013 campaign. Manning said he spoke with both captain Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando following Kreis’ departure and the team leaders expressed how losing Kreis will be different, it doesn’t mean RSL will suddenly be left searching for a life raft.
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