At the midpoint of the season, with his team in a playoff position, Real Salt Lake coach Freddy Juarez has left the club he has called home for more than a decade.
Juarez left RSL for a new opportunity, the club announced Friday, in a situation that RSL general manager Elliot Fall said unfolded within the last 48 hours. The Athletic reported that Juarez has joined the Seattle Sounders as an assistant coach. The Sounders employ Garth Lagerwey and Craig Waibel, two executives that once worked for RSL as general managers.
Assistant coach Pablo Mastroeni, a former head coach of the Colorado Rapids, will serve as the interim head coach.
“Today is a bittersweet day,” Fall said.
Real Salt Lake existed for a mere five years before Freddy Juarez joined the team’s academy in Arizona as a coach. The first team had already won an MLS Cup, and Juarez was in charge of developing the next set of players who could potentially reach those heights.
As the years went on, Juarez slowly got closer to RSL. When the Real Monarchs were introduced as RSL’s affiliate in the United Soccer League in 2015, Juarez was their first head coach.
When RSL needed an assistant two years later, Juarez was there. When Mike Petke was fired and the club needed an interim coach, Juarez was there. When the team made its decision on Petke’s replacement, Juarez accepted the job.
But after more than 10 years with the team, Juarez has decided to move on.
Fall said unequivocally that Juarez was not fired. He added that there wasn’t internal conversations about the coach’s future with the club beyond his year, which is when his contract was scheduled to expire. Juarez had a club option for 2022 on his deal.
“We had all discussed that that was an end-of-season conversation,” Fall said.
The news comes on the one-year anniversary that Dell Loy Hansen went on a radio show to discuss disappointment that RSL had decided not to play a game as a protest for the police shooting of a Black man in Wisconsin. Hansen announced his decision to sell the team three days later.
The team has yet to be sold, which raises some questions surrounding the timing of Juarez’s departure and the club’s search for his replacement. Fall said the club is working with the league to ensure the search process is conducted “in a way that is a firm foundation for the rest of this year, but also for years to come.”
“We have a group of people here that we really believe in,” Fall said. “We have a fantastic interim president in John Kimball and a lot of really good executives. We will all collectively make this decision, and we’ll make the decision that we think is best for Real Salt Lake for the rest of this year, but Real Salt Lake for years to come.”
In 2021, Juarez coached RSL to a 7-7-6 record, and the team currently sits above the playoff line at sixth place in the Western Conference. RSL, however, has struggled all season with keeping leads and Juarez has received some criticism for his substitution patterns.
Juarez had been head coach of the team since late 2019 after replacing Mike Petke. Juarez coached RSL on an interim bases at the tail end of that year after Petke’s firing.
Juarez, 41, coached the team through Petke’s firing, the departure of former general manager Craig Waibel, and the 2020 pandemic season. He ends his tenure with RSL with an overall record of 18 wins, 14 losses and 23 draws.
The attention now turns to Mastroeni, who joined RSL as Juarez’s lead assistant at the start of the 2021 season. His hiring received praise from former RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman, and many within the team said early in his tenure that he was making a positive impact.
Fall did not give a firm timeline on how long Mastroeni would serve as the interim coach. He added that the organization was only “hours” into the search for the permanent head coach.
“We’re looking for a leader,” Fall said. “We’re looking for somebody who’s going to come in continue to maximize the talent on this roster and drive us in a direction that we all believe we should be moving forward.”