Monson: Real Salt Lake's Jason Kreis is the best coach in MLS (with video)
Jason Kreis is the best coach in Major League Soccer.
You know it. I know it. We all know it. New York knows it. Probably even the voters who neglected again to give him the league's Coach of the Year award know it. (He finished third.)
If they don't, they should.
It's not some bit of local-yokel homerism here. It's a lot of bits of objective observation and good reason, watching and paying attention as the Real Salt Lake coach worked his wonders this year, and year after year.
Look at what Kreis has done:
He took a team that was attempting to rebuild in 2013 through a pitch of competitive and locker-room and financial land mines to a real shot at the MLS Cup. If he gets it this time around, it will be his second since 2009. All that will be determined Saturday in the championship game in Kansas City. And he did it on a minimum budget for his club and without a contract for himself. He still doesn't know where he'll be coaching next season. More on that in a minute.
Before this season started, RSL unloaded three of its core players, mostly because they were too expensive. The team lost pillars Will Johnson, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola. Those are All-Star-caliber guys. And Kreis made his way with youngsters such as Olmes Garcia, Devon Sandoval and Joao Plata, among others. You figure the guy who retired in 2007 as the league's all-time leading goal-scorer to become a coach might know a few basics about bringing 22-year-old strikers along in accelerated fashion.
He does and he did.
But he did more than just that. When RSL signed 11 new players to this year's roster, it was up to Kreis to integrate the new with the old, what was with what would be. That's a steep ascent, especially when the veterans were semi-ticked off about losing their former mates and now having to endure a learning curve for a bunch of kids who might have talent but also might make stupid mistakes from here to there that could cause RSL to tumble away from the success of its past.
It was ultimate team guy Nat Borchers who brought that up that the vets had three players stripped away from them who had been on the field alongside them for at least five seasons. Now what? Meshing the young'uns with Borchers and Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales and Nick Rimando, et al. was bound to be an adventure.
Kreis made it a productive one.
It could have been a mutiny.
Kreis turned it into a party boat.
He kept young and old on point, nearly everyone feeling involved and valued, taking three steps up for every one step back. It's flat-out some of Kreis' best work as coach in Salt Lake, and there's been plenty of that over the past six seasons.
During that span, Kreis has guided his club to six straight playoff appearances, the longest active streak in MLS. And he's had four consecutive seasons of at least 15 wins or 50 points.
He's accomplished most of that with considerably fewer dollars than the teams he's bettered. RSL's payroll this year sits at $3 million. Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and Toronto pay out between $15 and $30 million. Talk about getting Porsche results with Hyundai money. It's almost laughable.
Kreis achieved another thing: He sustained an art of playing that is the envy of the league. RSL's attacking ball-possession style has become a clear marker, possibly more recognizable and identifiable than any scheme of any other team. The best part about that is the entertainment value that attack brings to the field. The beautiful game is made more beautiful by that kind of style. It's arguable, but it can be said that RSL's identity is the way soccer should be played. It's philosophical as much as it is effective.
And it's a gas to watch.
As mentioned, Kreis is qualified and has managed to make stars out of more than the team. Beckerman has come on under his watch. Same with Morales and Rimando. The young guys aren't the only ones on the receiving end of solid mentoring. If the measure of a fine coach is drawing the best out of his players, Kreis along with his system has done it, is still doing it.
Looking toward his future, Kreis has been able to take that personal uncertainty and tuck it into a less-than-obstructive corner somewhere as his team has gone on its current run toward the Cup. RSL blew it when it didn't offer him the lucrative contract it now is offering him before the season started. It was a rookie mistake made by new owner Dell Loy Hansen, who since has ponied up a lot of cake in the offer that presently sits in front of Kreis.
Problem is, everybody other than the voters in the MLS Coach of the Year award balloting knows Kreis' value, too, including the owners of the new franchise on the block the New York City Football Club. NYCFC has talked with Kreis and made it plain to him that it wants him to be the team's coach.
His decision is up in the air and will remain that way through Saturday.
Not even those closest to Kreis know what he will do, likely because not even he knows what he's going to do. Reports have ebbed and flowed on that outcome in large part because it hasn't yet been decided.
One thing that is decided, even if it's not fully acknowledged: Jason Kreis is the best coach in Major League Soccer.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
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