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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis and Real Salt Lake general manager Garth Lagerwey pose for a portrait at Rio Tinto Stadium Wednesday June 13, 2012.
Real Salt Lake coach, GM a functional odd couple

Long history between Kreis, Lagerwey makes “antagonistic” relationship work.

First Published Jun 22 2012 03:13 pm • Last Updated Jun 22 2012 11:39 pm

Sandy • Coach Jason Kreis, by all accounts and his own admission, is wound a little tight.

His office is neat and tidy. His wardrobe is impeccable. He keeps many things to himself, speaks carefully and with a studied precision, as if he wants you to remember he went to Duke, and often runs laps with his players to stay trim. The man who manages his public smiles as if they come out of his paycheck even lists oenophilia — the enjoyment of wine — as one of his hobbies in the Real Salt Lake media guide.

At a glance

San Jose Earthquakes at Real Salt Lake

At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy.

Kickoff » Saturday,7 p.m.

TV » CW30

Radio » 700 AM, 102.3 FM

Records » San Jose 9-3-3, RSL 10-4-2

All-time series » Tied 2-2

Last meeting » San Jose 3-1 (April 21)

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All of which is to say, he’s absolutely nothing like his boss.

In the unique partnership that lies at the heart of the RSL success — decades in the making — general manager Garth Lagerway is the messy one.

His office is a disaster.

His appearance?

Just professional enough to get by. His shirttail is as likely to be fighting its way to freedom as staying tucked in its place, and he reputedly complained so much about team president Bill Manning’s office necktie mandate that Manning rescinded it. (Asked whether that was true, Manning simply leaned back in his chair and laughed.)

Since retiring as a goalkeeper, the gregarious Lagerwey has seldom met a meal he didn’t like (or finish), and he doesn’t mind pre-empting any incoming fat jokes with a few of his own. He laughs loudly and often, loves to shoot the breeze and tell stories — he was once a guest columnist for Sports Illustrated, and has worked in broadcasting — and endures the good-natured but relentless abuse of Kreis and his assistant coaches.

Having Kreis answer to this guy, in other words, is like having the chardonnay report to the beer.

"Have you seen him over there?" Kreis says, with mock derision.

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And yet two men who could scarcely be any different personally have formed a working relationship based on a long friendship that has delivered both of them — and an entire franchise — to the top of the table, notwithstanding an ugly meltdown at home against the Los Angeles Galaxy the other night.

That was the original intent of team owner Dave Checketts when he hired Lagerwey out of a Washington law firm in 2007, to have a capable counterbalance for the strong-minded Kreis, and the move has paid off handsomely.

Not only did RSL win the 2009 MLS Cup under their direction, but the team is also leading Major League Soccer as the season hits its halfway point with a home game against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, and is in good position to win its first Supporters Shield regular-season title.

"That was a very intelligent choice by Dave," Kreis says. "I think he saw two people who are very different, but still had some history together and can work together in a very friendly way and also be very antagonistic of each other."

Did he say "antagonistic"?

That dynamic is so well known among colleagues that it’s a running joke inside the club; even broadcaster Brian Dunseth — the former RSL defender — made reference to it, upon overhearing Kreis answer a question about Lagerwey after practice.

"When was the last time you actually agreed with Garth?" Dunseth asked.

But that’s the whole point.

"We find that we thoroughly analyze decisions," Lagerwey says. "He comes at it one way, and I come at it — oftentimes — the exact opposite way. But when we agree, it’s usually a decision that’s been thoroughly vetted, and as a result, we’ve found that those are usually good decisions. Don’t get me wrong. There’s usually some heartache along the way. But we work it out."

It’s not always easy, though.

In general, Manning says that Lagerwey typically complains that Kreis is a "lunatic" who wants everything his way, while Kreis believes Lagerwey "doesn’t know what he’s talking about." Sometimes, Lagerwey will burst into Manning’s office, close the door behind him and vent about the coaches.

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