jeff cassar

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RSL fires head coach Cassar three games into 2017 MLS season

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Jeff Cassar is out as head coach of Real Salt just three games into the 2017 season, the MLS club announced on Monday.

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Cassar became the boss at Rio Tinto Stadium following Jason Kreis’s departure in the weeks after MLS Cup 2013. Cassar’s RSL teams posted an overall record of 38W-37L-30D during his tenure, qualifying for the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2014 and 2016, but failing to advance to the next round on either occasion.

[ MORE: Sat. (afternoon) roundup — NYCFC dominate, disappoint; ATL roll ]

With his last contract set to expire over the offseason, Cassar was handed only a one-year contract following RSL’s elimination from the 2016 playoffs, making Monday’s news hardly surprising.

[ MORE: Sat. (late-night) roundup — FCD, PDX emerge as early favorites ]

Assistant coach Daryl Shore will take over in the interim. Former New York Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke was named head coach of Real Monarchs, RSL’s USL affiliate, during the offseason. His name will be spoken regularly in speculating about Cassar’s replacement. Robin Fraser, who served as an RSL assistant from 2007-2010 and has two seasons of experience as head coach of Chivas USA, is another popular pick.

2015 MLS season preview: Real Salt Lake

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  • Qualified for MLS Cup Playoffs every year since 2008
  • In 2014, finished 3rd in Western Conference
  • Knocked out by LA Galaxy (5-0) in conference semifinals

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS previews for 2015 ]

Key player: Alvaro Saborio

60 goals in 113 MLS appearances, including 37 in 63 over his last three seasons. It’s near impossible to find a striker in MLS that can match Saborio’s consistent contributions. Only problem is, he averages 22 appearances per season, mostly because of a checkered past of injuries and partly because of Costa Rican national team call-ups. This year, the difference between 30 starts and 20 starts for Saborio in 2015, is the difference between RSL continuing their playoff streak and missing out for the first time since 2007.

Other names to watch: Javier Morales, Sebastian Jaime, Kyle Beckerman and Chris Schuler

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Head coach: Jeff Cassar

The job Cassar did in year one, keeping RSL from missing a beat after Jason Kreis departed for New York City FC, was Coach of the Year-worthy work. The system, the ethos, the identity of the club didn’t change and they were successful for it. Now, Nat Borchers, Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert, three long-time starters, are gone. Can Cassar now make RSL his own, rather than continuing where Kreis left off?

Outlook for 2015

It felt wrong to do it, but I’ve got RSL on the outside of the playoffs, looking in. That said, so much of the West’s playoff picture revolves around the Portland Timbers. The ceiling for Portland feels so much higher than the likes of RSL, Vancouver and others, but the floor is rock-bottom low. With RSL, we always know what we’re gonna get, so it’s always feel like such a “safe” pick.

American down: US youth star, Real Salt Lake rookie done for season

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Jordan Allen was a name to watch in his rookie season for Real Salt Lake. The 19-year-old from Rochester, N.Y., had completed a quick ascent to Major League Soccer after one season at the University of Virginia, and the US U-20 player was poised to break through.

But after appearing in RSL’s first two matches as a substitute, Allen has not appeared since and now we know why: the youngster will be shut down for 2014 after undergoing knee surgery.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Jordan is getting surgery,” RSL head coach Jeff Cassar told reporters on Tuesday, confirming a season-ending operation for his rookie midfielder that is set for Thursday. “It’s his knee.”

Allen appeared in just the first two regular-season matches of the year, playing just a total of nine minutes. In the second game, he suffered an ankle injury when he was fouled from behind, and that apparently aggravated a knee injury.

He was just the sixth player to be signed out of the RSL-Arizona Academy, and he was expected to contribute first-team minutes right away, not just in midfield, but in defense and attack as well.

Here’s to a speedy recovery for Allen, who could be a major factor for the United States moving forward.

Robbie Findley’s return could put RSL over the top; How close is he?

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Real Salt Lake’s 13 goals through eight games provides the third-best total in Major League Soccer, and the club has been doing it without World Cup veteran forward Robbie Findley.

The 28-year-old scored six goals last season after returning from Nottingham Forest, but was hurt in the 112th minute of the MLS Cup final against Sporting KC. What followed the injury hurt in the short- and long-term: RSL lost the championship in penalty kicks and Findley needed surgery to repair a torn patella tendon.

He has been “on the shelf” since December and still isn’t quite ready for a return.

From MLSSoccer.com:

At one point, the speedy forward – who had two goals and an assist in the 2013 playoffs – was projected to return in April. But he started training with the team last week, which is great news for RSL coach Jeff Cassar, the longtime assistant who hasn’t been able to put Findley in the starting lineup – or even in the 18 – since he became the head coach this season.

“He’s not quite up to getting banged on yet and getting that contact,” Cassar told reporters. “That was a pretty severe injury. Part of it is building that confidence back as much as it is the muscles. You’ve got to work with him physically, mentally and bring it all together.”

Findley is playing only offense during training. He said there’s no more pain in his knee, but “deceleration, changing direction and all that stuff is where I need to get used to doing it again,” he said. “And that’s what I’m doing. It’s getting better each week. I’m headed in the right direction.”

There’s no timetable for his return. Findley’s in his second stint with RSL, after his World Cup participation earned him increased attention from European clubs. The 33 goals in 107 appearances for RSL in stint No. 1 didn’t hurt, either.

His return to join Alvaro Saborio (4 goals, 22 shots) and Joao Plata (3 goals, 2 assists) would certainly boost the third-place Western Conference side in search of a return to the MLS Cup final.

Real Salt Lake opts for continuity by promoting Jeff Cassar

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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.