Coach Jason Kreis acknowledged the "tremendous, tremendous" show of support that team majority owner Dave Checketts has shown by announcing that RSL will retire the No. 9 jersey Kreis wore for the team as a player, but he said it feels to him like "a little much."
"That's my honest opinion," he said. "I just don't know if I really deserve something like that."
He's not alone, judging by the online controversy that erupted after RSL made its unexpected announcement Thursday. Many fans are debating whether Kreis deserves to have his number retired by a team for which he scored only 17 of his 108 career goals in about two seasons, or whether soccer teams should retire jersey numbers at all.
General manager Garth Lagerwey sided with RSL in a classic and amusing rant in a hallway at Rio Tinto Stadium after training Friday.
"I don't get that, man," Lagerwey said. "I don't get the controversy. â¦ I get that Jason may not have played 500 games for RSL wearing the No. 9. But, man. His career, body of work. His playing career alone speaks for itself. Why our franchise wouldn't want to be associated with Jason, the player, would be just baffling to me."
Lagerwey complained bemusedly about purists who argue that soccer teams shouldn't retire jerseys.
Traditionally, most retired jerseys around the world specially in Europe honor players who have died or suffered a tragic accident. But Checketts wants to honor Kreis as much for the job he has done in rebuilding RSL.
"We live in America," Lagerwey said. "We play in an American soccer league. We have playoffs, we don't have relegation, we retire numbers. â¦ I can't imagine anything less controversial.
"America is a great place," he continued, growing more animated. "I like living in the United States. I don't need to live in Europe. I'm not envious of the Europeans. I don't need to work in Europe. And, by the way, if you do? That's cool. Emigrate. I have no problem with that. But we live in America, and at least for me, man, I've been taught every day that this is the greatest country on Earth. So why do we apologize? Why is it bad to be American?
"This is my whole CONCACAF rant," he said, referring to the CONCACAF Champions League tournament in which RSL has reached the semifinals. "My goodness, if we don't try to win this competition and show that we're the best, we're never going to be the best. And we're Americans, so we should be the best or at least, we should strive to be the best! So it drives me crazy, these people who say we have to do everything like Europe. Why? Why don't we try to beat Europe? This is like the LeBron James generation. Why go and join the other guys? I'm Michael Jordan. I want to beat everybody else. I don't want to join them."
A moment later, Lagerwey added that the traditional equation of certain jersey numbers to positions on the field is a "relic" that's "not terribly relevant in the modern day," in much the same way a similar system in baseball faded away during the 20th century, as modern marketing emerged and teams began putting players' names on jerseys.
"We've been through all this, and we've had a measured debate in America in other sports leagues on how to handle this, and we've come out as a country that we're cool with retiring numbers," Lagerwey said.