Kragthorpe: Coach's focus takes RSL to brink of history
With his celebrity status becoming overwhelming at times, BYU star Jimmer Fredette must have found it both refreshing and humbling to meet Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis.
"So," Kreis asked, "you play basketball?"
With a training session scheduled on Super Bowl Sunday, RSL players wondered if Kreis could name the game's contestants. "Not a clue," said defender Nat Borchers.
Between legs of his team's CONCACAF Champions League final against Monterrey, Kreis booked a practice for Sunday morning, before players pointed out it was Easter.
Proving that his approach is less tyrannical than simply reflecting a single-minded nature, Kreis canceled that practice unlike the case with the Super Bowl conflict.
As much as the players like to tease him about being oblivious to the world beyond soccer, they appreciate the focus that makes their job easier and the team so successful.
"One of Jason's best characteristics is he is detail-oriented," Borchers said. "He considers every angle over every situation for every game. Every training situation, everything outside of soccer that we would have to worry about, Jason has those things covered. â¦ It really gives us peace of mind as players."
Real general manager Garth Lagerwey, Kreis' teammate at Duke University and with the Dallas Burn of Major League Soccer, tried to talk him out of that Super Bowl Sunday practice in Arizona. Kreis' response: A cold stare, and an invitation for the boss to come back when he had something serious to discuss.
Well, Lagerwey asked for it. RSL ownership and management wanted the coaches and players to take this tournament seriously, and they've responded.
"I say it with great affection that Jason is completely focused on his job, and it's something that has served us very well as a club and it's served him very well," Lagerwey said. "He's unbelievable at conveying what's important to our players and he's been conveying how important this tournament is for the past nine months. He's done an awesome job managing the group."
In case you're wondering, Kreis is aware of the World Series. OK, maybe he couldn't tell you that the Giants and Rangers played for baseball's championship last fall. But in acknowledging how this event's being mixed into the MLS schedule may be "difficult to grasp" for the average sports fan, Kreis offered a helpful illustration of what the FIFA Club World Cup is all about.
Real Salt Lake, once a struggling expansion franchise in MLS, is on the verge of playing in a true World Series a tournament featuring the best clubs worldwide, advancing from regional qualifying.
The team has made it so far coming within 90 minutes of a trip to Japan in December that anything other than success Wednesday at Rio Tinto Stadium would be a major letdown.
"In terms of what it means historically," Lagerwey said, assessing RSL's tournament run, "I think it really makes a difference if we win or not."
By winning, he means at least tying 0-0 or 1-1 in the second leg, which would be sufficient. The format itself is a little mystifying to some fans, considering Wednesday's kickoff will come with the teams tied 2-2, but RSL technically ahead. That's because road goals are weighted, almost as if Fredette got four points for every long-distance shot away from the Marriott Center
That explanation should make sense even to Kreis, the Duke graduate.
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