RSL retains Freddy Juarez as coach

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake General Manager Elliot Fall introduces new Head Coach Freddy Juarez during a news conference at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Tuesday Dec. 3, 2019. At left is team owner Dell Loy Hansen.

Sandy • Atop a red tablecloth emblazoned with the Real Salt Lake crest, nameplates were deftly placed in front of Freddy Juarez and Elliot Fall, among the Major League Soccer team’s other top brass, Tuesday afternoon.

The word “interim” was nowhere to be seen.

RSL officially dropped the qualifiers in front of the titles held by Juarez and Fall, introducing them as the club’s new coach and general manager, respectively, during a news conference at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“Our ladder should always have people who are able to move to the next rung,” RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen said. “Be it players, be it administrators, be it coaches, we totally believe in the concept of internal advancement.”

In adhering to that, the team has made two other promotions. It named Dan Egner, the former GM of the reigning United Soccer League-champion Real Monarchs, as its technical director. Last month it was announced that former fan-favorite defender Tony Beltran, who retired in October after spending his entire career with RSL, would fill the role of assistant GM.

Juarez rose above a handful of serious candidates, including former RSL forward and manager Jason Kreis, who led the team to its only MLS Cup in 2009. Hansen lauded the coach for the respect he gets from the players and the success Juarez found after taking over as interim head coach in August following the firing of Mike Petke after he berated game officials with a homophobic slur following a Leagues Cup loss to Tigres UANL.

Juarez went 8-5-2 in 2019 as the team’s interim head coach, leading RSL (16-13-5) to the MLS Cup Western Conference semifinals for the second straight season.

The owner added that Juarez — who has coached the Monarchs (2015-16) and RSL academy teams — “promised” him RSL would finish in the top four of the Western Conference every year of his tenure.

“One thing I’m going to do is I’m going to work,” Juarez, 41, said. “I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can every day to have this team succeed. If it doesn’t succeed, at least I know I worked as hard as I can.”

Success will hinge on bringing in or bringing up new talent. That pertains in particular to the goalkeeper position with the retirement of Nick Rimando, who holds MLS records for career shutouts, wins, saves and appearances. The team needs to find a replacement for Beltran as well and Juarez said he would like his squad to be more aggressive on the attack and is looking at players who can make that happen.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake Assistant General Manager Tony Beltran during a news conference at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Tuesday Dec. 3, 2019.

Fall will now be the man charged with bringing in those players. He has been with the team since 2007 and took over as interim GM in late September after the team parted ways with Craig Waibel shortly after it was revealed that Waibel had been critical of Hansen and planned to leave the team at the end of the 2019 season.

Even as an assistant GM, Hansen said Fall was the organization’s expert on contract negotiations, salary caps and options.

“If you want details, you’d just call 1-800-ELLIOT [and ask] ‘What are we doing?’” Hansen said.

Fall said he learned a lot more once he stepped into the interim GM position. A graduate of the University of Utah and Salt Lake City’s Judge Memorial Catholic High School, Fall is a lifelong Salt Lake City resident. At 34 years old, he is the youngest general manager in Major League Soccer.

“Would I have been prepared a year ago? On some level you’re never fully prepared. You’ve always got things to learn. There’s always growing to do,” Fall said. “The last year has been one of tremendous growth and I’ve learned a lot especially during that time the last several months.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake Technical Director Dan Egner and Executive VP of Soccer Operation Rob Zarkos during a news conference at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Tuesday Dec. 3, 2019.

In addition to managing negotiations for the big club, Fall will coordinate with Egner to handle the business side of the Monarchs. According to Rob Zarkhos, RSL’s executive vice president of soccer operations, they will serve in tandem as GM and the Monarchs will hire an assistant GM.

The tumult in the RSL front office over the final months of the 2019 season spilled over into the courtroom. Petke filed a lawsuit against the team for breach of contract and Waibel was asked to testify about remarks attributed to him in the suit criticizing Hansen’s decision to fire the coach. That case is scheduled to go to arbitration and legal experts have said it is likely to be settled.

Considering the rough go the team had with their predecessors, it might be surprising RSL stuck with Juarez and Fall instead of bringing in some new blood. But Hansen pointed to their respective longevity with the organization and the club’s on-field success and consistency with those two in charge as reasons to keep them close.

“I have never been happier with the people here and the common vision than I am now,“ he said.