Herriman • The walls are bare inside Freddy Juarez’s new office. There are no photos of his family, friends, girlfriend or various cats. There’s just a desk with a landline phone. That’s because Juarez is still getting used to his new gig as Real Salt Lake’s permanent head coach.
The club officially introduced him earlier this month at a press conference in which RSL took the interim tags off Juarez and new general manager Elliot Fall. Both were placed in temporary positions after the midseason departures of Mike Petke and Craig Waibel, respectively.
But Juarez may not have been the first choice for the job. Reports indicated former coach Jason Kreis was offered the head coaching position and talks evolved from there for an elevated role.
Negotiations broke down after Kreis presented the club with a counter offer that was “absurd,” a team official familiar with the negotiations told The Salt Lake Tribune. Kreis appeared in line to become the team’s sporting director before he made the counter offer, the official said.
Nevertheless, Juarez ended up with the job, much to the joy of his players and RSL fans. And if there was any perception at all that the former assistant coach was the backup or safe choice, he doesn’t but it.
“Am I the safe choice? Probably, the way people see it,” Juarez recently told The Tribune. “Do I think I'm a safe choice? No. I think I'm the right choice.”
FREDDIE JUAREZ AT A GLANCE
• First head coaching job in MLS.
• Born in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
• Previously worked as head coach of Real Monarchs and the RSL Academy team.
• Led RSL to 7-4-2 record as interim head coach last season.
• Has coached in some capacity since he was 18 years old.
• Owns four cats.
Now that Juarez is making all the choices, he’s starting to understand just how much weight is on his shoulders. How he plans preseason, possible formation changes, designing training sessions and everything in between — it all matters, and everyone is watching.
But that external pressure doesn’t compare to what is already on is mind as the competitor he’s always been.
“Probably as an assistant, you don't get any pressure really, unless it's from your head coach or something,” Juarez said. “I'm imagining there's going to be more pressures. But still, it's not going to be any more pressure than I put on myself or we put on the staff because we want to win.”
And winning is exactly what Juarez wants to do. He’s already promised RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen that, with him at the helm, the club will finish in the top four of the Western Conference every year.
To do that, Juarez already has some ideas. While he’s not going to just change everything like he did when he first coached the Real Monarchs, he plans on making tactical tweaks to enhance what Salt Lake lacks.
RSL put away just 46 goals last season, second-least among Major League Soccer playoff teams. The club needs to score more goals, Juarez said, and one way it could accomplish that is being more organized and having better positioning in the final third.
At the same time, he doesn’t want to lose what became a staunch mentality on the other side of the ball.
“Can we score more goals? Yes,” Juarez said. “We’re really going to focus on that type of stuff without losing what we developed last year and defending properly as a team and still adding some layers to it.”
Another aspect of RSL’s game Juarez wants to improve is set pieces. To do that, he will bring in a coach that specializes in those types of situations. When Mike Petke was head coach of the team, he was in charge of coaching set pieces, but could not put as much detail into those sessions due to his other responsibilities, he said.
Juarez said a club having a special coach for set pieces has not caught on in the United States just yet, but it’s becoming more popular in Europe. It was his idea to bring a coach like that to RSL, he added.
Training camp for Real is likely to open in late January. The team already announced it will participate again in the Visit Tucson Sun Cup, held in February in Arizona. But before then, Juarez wants to set a tone and lay out what his standards for the team will be in 2020.
For Juarez, those standards start with a simple yet important concept: Respect.
“I think respect for me is at the core of everything,” Juarez said. “I respect the players. They hopefully respect the staff back. With respect, the littlest of things kind of get controlled — being on time, acknowledging all the employees, your teammates, taking care of your body. I think respect is a reminder of all that.”
Juarez is on a multiyear deal with RSL and said he was “honored” to get the opportunity to coach the team. Some of his goals include developing a distinct style of play and continuing to develop RSL Academy players.
Above all, though, Juarez wants to win — a lot.
“What I want is challenge for a trophy as soon as we possibly can,” Juarez said. “Open Cup trophy, Leagues Cup trophy. Whichever one is there, we want to challenge for it.”