Real Salt Lake has become such an ideologically specific team, staying within the organization made sense. They prefer their set formation. They have a philosophically-driven style of play. So while names like former RSL assistant Robin Fraser’s had been linked with Jason Kreis’s former job, it always made sense to promote from within. And in that sense, we should have seen yesterday’s announcement coming.
Opting to stay in-house, the Western Conference champions have promoted goalkeeper coach Jeff Cassar to the big job. The 39-year-old former Major League Soccer goalkeeper was introduced as the club’s third head coach on Thursday, a move that should ensure the team’s approach stays unchanged to start the 2014 season.
At least, that’s what Cassar was espousing at today’s introductory press conference. As the new boss, team owner Dell Loy Hansen, president Bill Manning and general manager Garth Lagerwey described the process of finding Kreis’s replacement, “Why change” (Cassar’s question) seemed to define the search. For a team that’s made six-straight postseasons and two appearances in MLS Cup (winning in 2009), the risks of rocking the boat outweighed the benefits of trying to modify it.
“Jeff’s been a crucial member of the RSL Family since 2007,” Hansen said in Wednesday’s announcement. “His terrific leadership abilities, strong character and understanding of our locker room, tactics and overarching club culture will allow us to continue to compete for trophies in 2014 and beyond.”
That understanding was one of many factors working in Cassar’s favor. According to Hansen, the players were “unanimously” in support of his promotion. With seven seasons under his belt in Utah, Cassar also allows the team to maintain a close bond between head coach and general manager, something that was critical to Kreis and Lagerwey’s success. And as the RSL general manager noted, Cassar has spent more time working with the team’s young talent than anybody, something that’s especially valuable to an organization that needs those salary cap-friendly contracts to produce if the team’s going to compete with MLS’s big spenders.
But like his predecessor, one of Cassar’s key virtues is his familiarity with Major League Soccer. The former U.S. U-18 and U-20 international goalkeeper spent 11 seasons in MLS starting in 1996. With the Miami Fusion in 20o0, he was a teammate with Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Garth Lagerwey, and soon to be assistant Andy Williams. After retiring in 2007, Cassar initially took the goalkeeper coach position with FC Dallas before moving to RSL’s staff that May, where he’s been ever since.
And as Manning noted, one of the biggest selling points for Cassar was continuity, hinting we’re unlikely to see Real Salt Lake’s approach change with Kreis’s departure. We should still see them roll out their 4-4-2 formation. The diamond midfield should be there. The emphasis on possession play predicated on short passing should remain, and the approach in defense (where Cassar was already playing a key role) should go unchanged.
Another young, former MLS player with connections from his playing days to many key RSL figures, Cassar is as status quo as you can get without retaining Kreis, and while it’s not so easy to replace a man with Kreis’s accomplishments, RSL has at least ensured they will replicate his approach.