A candidate for Real Salt Lake’s coaching vacancy is reportedly out of the mix.
Landon Donovan, former star of the U.S Men’s National Team and current coach and executive with the USL’s San Diego Loyal, withdrew his name from consideration, ESPN reports. Donovan was among a slew of candidates being considered to fill the hole left by Freddy Juarez.
Interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni, meanwhile, seems more and more likely to be the man at RSL’s helm for the remainder of the season, as team executives navigate a coaching search during a playoff push.
“We’re nearing the end of the season in a playoff push,” RSL general manager Elliot Fall told a small group of reporters last week after a town hall meeting with a room full of fans. “So we have to focus on this year as well. We have an opportunity to do something special now.”
The departure of Juarez came as a shock to the Real Salt Lake fan base, players and, on some level, the decision-makers in the organization. While the front office gave the Seattle Sounders permission to interview him, few expected him to walk away from RSL in the middle of the season.
The club simultaneously named Mastroeni, then serving as an assistant coach, as the interim head man and started an exhaustive search for its permanent coach. That was back in late August. And with the season winding down and the fan base growing antsier every day a coach isn’t announced, it’s starting to seem like RSL won’t have a new coach in place until after the team has played its last game of 2021.
At this point, that situation might actually be what the club wants.
Just five games remain in the 2021 season, and RSL sits in fifth place in the Western Conference with 42 points. Only five points separate Salt Lake from the eighth-place LAFC.
If RSL can find a way to make it to fourth place, it will host an opening-round playoff game at Rio Tinto Stadium. But right now, the Portland Timbers sit above them with 46 points.
The team is in the thick of fighting for a postseason spot.
And who has helped put RSL in this position? Mastroeni. So although the front office is faced with choosing between what it says is a host of great candidates, there’s also a feeling that there’s no reason to disrupt the team’s current playoff push.
Fall has said on several instances that he has narrowed down the list of candidates to about a handful of finalists. But, he’s been mum on who exactly those finalists are.
Multiple reports in the last several weeks have stated RSL has talked to Mastroeni, Landon Donovan, Jason Kreis, Pat Noonan, Dominic Kinnear and Luchi Gonzalez for the opening. The Athletic reported last month that Noonan was in Utah for a second interview.
Interim President John Kimball did not add any insight into who the final candidates are, either. But he did offer that any one of them could potentially land the job.
“I wish we could hire all of them,” Kimball said. “There are just amazing, talented people that we’re talking to. It speaks again to what these guys have done and what the club is to have that caliber of coach and have them really want to come here. I think it speaks volumes of what’s going on.”
With myriad candidates and so little time left in the season, Fall did not commit either way in regard to announcing a hire before the end of the season. In other words, it could come in the next couple of weeks, or it could come after RSL is officially out of playoff contention.
It should also be noted that there are currently several openings in Major League Soccer for head coaches. But Fall is not worried about that.
“Quite frankly — and maybe people will call me crazy for saying this — but I think we’re the best job of them all right now,” Fall said. “We’re the team that is in a playoff spot. We’re the team that has a roster certainly that I feel can compete. And then on top of that, we’re the team with the infrastructure to develop and to have long-term sustained success as well.”