From the very first day Damir Kreilach landed in Utah and met his Real Salt Lake teammates, he felt right at home. They welcomed him and his family with open arms.
It’s that sentiment that led Kreilach to sign a multiyear extension with the first and only Major League Soccer team he has ever known.
“For me it was an easy decision,” Kreilach said in videoconference call with media.
The Croatian midfielder’s new deal goes through the 2022 season with a club option for 2023. RSL acquired him prior to the 2018 season, after he had played five seasons for Union Berlin in Germany’s second division.
Since then, he’s scored 23 goals and added 14 assists in 76 appearances. In this first year with RSL, he netted a team-high 12 goals.
Kreilach’s numbers exemplify the versatility he has brought to the field. He wasn’t brought in to score goals, necessarily, but in his time with RSL he has played myriad positions — including striker — and produced at a high level.
RSL general manager Elliot Fall said Kreilach’s chameleon-like game proved a factor in signing him long term.
“We felt like it was a perfect opportunity for us to lock him down for several years and ensure that we have that versatility and that ability to build around him and use him in everything that we’re building moving forward,” Fall said.
At 31, Kreilach is one of the older players on an RSL team that in recent years has prioritized youth and development. Assuming he plays out the entire length of his new contract and the club exercises the 2023 option, Kreilach will be in his mid-30s by the end of it.
But even if his production declines in the next few years, Kreilach’s effect on the team’s culture and what he brings off the field played a significant role into Fall pursuing a contract extension.
“Even as he ages, if we move to a place where he’s not playing as many minutes and in a bit of a different role on-field, off the field he brings immense value,” Fall said. “We have no doubts and no question marks as to what he’s going to be able to provide our group.”
So far this season, Kreilach has five goals and an assist. In his mind, he has many years of productive soccer ahead of him. He said he’s been fortunate not to have a major injury in his career and hopes that continues over the next few years.
“For me, the years are just a number,” Kreilach said.
Kreilach is likely most known for this athletic crane kick goal against LAFC in the 2018 playoffs. He finished a similar looking goal this season. Both have earned him a couple of nicknames related to the “Karate Kid” movie franchise, including “Kreilach Kid” and “Cobra Krei.”
Kreilach said the negotiations between him, his agent and the club went smoothly. He suggested he weighed multiple offers, but he wanted to say with RSL.
“RSL gave me everything and I wanted to think about that,” Kreilach said.
When asked whether the recent changes within the RSL organization — including Dell Loy Hansen’s decision to sell the holding company that includes the three Utah professional soccer teams — Kreilach said it had no impact whatsoever on his decision to stay.
Kreilach had no interest in discussing retiring with RSL because, as he put it, he’s going “day by day, year by year, month by month.” But Fall said the organization would “love” if he chose RSL as the final club of his career.
“He embodies what we want to be from a on-field perspective, in the locker room and in the community — he checks all the boxes,” Fall said. “We want him here as long as he wants to be here.”
RSL VS. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
At Rio Tinto Stadium
When • Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
TV • KMYU