Jason Kreis stresses re-establishing ‘identity’ in return to Real Salt Lake

Kreis, one of club’s former players and coach, will have a dual role within the organization.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jason Kreis, former RSL coach and then-coach of the United States U-23 men's national soccer team, in Herriman at the Real Salt Lake Training Academy on Wednesday June 12, 2019. He was recently named the club’s director of operations and special projects.

Jason Kreis didn’t want to make any promises or announcements. He’s been back at Real Salt Lake for only a few days, after all, in a dual business and soccer role as the club’s director of operations and special projects.

But the team’s former star player and championship-winning coach did want to send a message to RSL fans about his return to a place he calls “home.”

“The one area I’m going to be very, very focused on is establishing again a clear identity of who we are at Real Salt Lake,” Kreis said in a video call with reporters. “I’m very, very interested in and want that identity to not just be about the staff members that are in this building in Herriman, or the staff members that are in the stadium in Sandy, or the players that are here.

“I want it to involve the entire community. I want this identity that we establish to be a clear reflection of our fans and the people who support us.”

Kreis is no stranger to establishing identity. During the club’s heyday, which started with an MLS Cup title in 2009 and lasted until about 2013, Kreis pushed the “team is the star” aphorism for a club that didn’t spend much and had a perception as The Little Soccer Club That Could. He also solidified an identity on the field with his 4-4-2 diamond formation and forced opponents to adjust.

While he stopped short of describing his role as “all-encompassing,” Kreis said he’ll be working on both the business and soccer sides of the organization. He hopes to add to the organization using his years of coaching at the MLS level, but he admitted he’s a business novice and will be learning “a ton of stuff” from that standpoint.

Kreis said one of his goals is to create a “clear pathway and very clear alignment” between the academy, second and first team. He wants to serve as a mentor to some of the younger coaches in the organization, and as a “sounding” board for RSL coach Pablo Mastroeni who can help him relay his vision to players and other staff members while also giving him ideas on how to best communicate that vision.

When it comes to working with newly minted Sporting Director Kurt Schmid and assistant general manager Tony Beltran, Kreis expects to be “another voice in the room” to help make decisions. He wants to be involved in the search for a new general manager, and said he was told during his interview process that his superiors want him involved.

Kreis will report directly to president John Kimball, who came on initially in an interim role in 2020 amid the club being embroiled in scandal and searching for a new owner.

Kreis’s name has been bandied about over the years when other jobs have been open in the past, like in 2019 when the club was searching for a new coach after Mike Petke’s firing. When it was first rumored that Kreis could return to RSL as part of the front office shakeup that saw the departure of Elliot Fall as GM, it was made clear that his role wouldn’t be in coaching.

Kreis said he met with Mastroeni in late September with a vision of what a return to RSL could look like for him. Once he officially landed the job, Kreis again met with Mastroeni to communicate a clear intention, he said.

“I have no interest in your job,” Kreis said he told Mastroeni. “Absolutely none.”

Kreis also said he told Mastroeni that he believed in what the coach was doing at RSL and he supports that unequivocally.

“I think we’ve covered all the bases there and feel very safe to say that we have a very clear understanding already,” Kreis said.

Kreis isn’t getting too much thrown on his plate by ownership and Kimball right now, he said, adding that a clearer picture of his projects will likely come about in January. But what he wants to stress as soon as possible is that RSL fans will be inexorably linked to the team’s success moving forward.

Kreis said he has already met with Mastroeni about how he can get fans more engaged in the first 15 minutes of home games. RSL was just 6-7-4 at America First Field in 2023.

“We are going to be a club that really, really needs our fans and believe that our fans can provide us something that other places can’t,” Kreis said. “What I’m saying in particular is we believe that our fans can help us win games at home. ... Please, fans, get there early so we can start off the game in the right way.”