RSL finally makes long-awaited coaching move
There are two things we know Jason Kreis can do well, score goals and give stirring speeches.
In his first public appearance as Real Salt Lake's new head coach on Thursday, Kreis spoke strongly about his desire to turn things around for a floundering franchise that is already four games into what looks like another hopeless season. We learned that Kreis is a confident and motivated man, a man whose "Fortune favors the bold" mantra left some believing that he could follow the likes of Peter Nowak and Roy Keane in the fraternity of soccer players who made the quick and seamless transition from star player to standout coach.
As impressive as Kreis was as a player though, it may be asking too much to expect a man with absolutely no coaching experience to turn around a club that has endured more than two years of neglect, mistakes and incompetence.
That's what made it a little funny to hear Real Salt Lake's owner, Dave Checketts, talk about pro sports being a "results-oriented business." Wasn't it results oriented in 2005 when the club was completely lost and overmatched? Didn't results matter last year when the club got off to an awful 0-4-1 start?
So what finally woke Checketts up to the reality that his team had been built into a mess? Did it really take a 2-0 loss to Colorado, a team Checketts surely wanted to beat after last season's memorable dustup between the RSL owner and Rapids captain Pablo Mastroeni?
Checketts waited too long to make a change, and now Real Salt Lake is left with a roster that is worse than last year's 10-13-9 Western Conference cellar dweller. He has handed the reins to Kreis, who very well may be capable of improving results, but no amount of ingenuity, tactical acumen or boldness is going to help Kreis transform RSL's suspect roster into a respectable one, at least not any time soon.
Is there talent? The team has quality attacking players, including Jeff Cunningham, the league's leading scorer in '06, and young standouts Freddy Adu and Mehdi Ballouchy. Still, there is no denying that the team is poorly constructed and in need of far more help (particularly on defense) than the $200,000 in salary-cap space provided by Kreis' retirement can offer.
Consider some of the mistakes made by former coach John Ellinger and former general manager Steve Pastorino during their more than two years in charge of RSL. You have the club's questionable decision to make Nik Besagno the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 MLS Draft (the midfielder has played just seven matches in three seasons), then you had the salary-cap crippling decision to break the MLS bank to bring Clint Mathis back to the league with a long-term deal. Then there was the indefensible decision to leave Kreis exposed in last winter's expansion draft (believing Toronto wouldn't select an older player at such a high salary) only to have to pay Toronto an allocation to get him back.
The number of outright blunders made by that aforementioned duo left MLS observers saying, "it's about time" when word began to surface about Thursday's shakeup. That reaction was quickly replaced by head-scratching, however, when Real Salt Lake announced that Ellinger wasn't being fired, but instead taking over as the team's Director of Soccer Operations and Technical Director.
In short, the club took the man who has been instrumental in the team making personnel mistake after personnel mistake and putting him in charge of, wait for it, personnel. Ellinger is one of the nicest and most thoughtful men you will ever meet in professional soccer, but he has had more than two years to show us all that building an MLS team is not something he is capable of doing.
Checketts decision to keep Ellinger around in such a key role was tantamount to a restaurant removing a horrible chef from the kitchen and placing him in charge of the menu and recipes. No one can argue that as a youth development expert, Ellinger is one of the best in the states, as evidenced by his success in molding some of the country's best talent during his time with the U.S. Under-17 Residency program.
Unfortunately for Ellinger, he never distinguished himself as a good tactician, a leader of veteran professionals or a good judge of pro talent. These faults were instrumental in Real Salt Lake compiling a 15-47-16 record during Ellinger's tenure as head coach.
Now Kreis is left to pick up the pieces while having to work with one of the men responsible for the disaster. Despite that potential handicap, there is something about Kreis that makes you feel as if he can turn things around eventually. RSL fans shouldn't expect miracles though. The league's all-time leading goal scorer is going to need some serious time to turn around a club that can be only described as a Real mess.
After four weeks of upsets, blowouts, surprisingly strong starts and even more surprising stumbles we now have a slate of games that should provide focus to an MLS season still too tough to read.
Are the Wizards and Crew for real? Can the Red Bulls and Fire really be that good, and more importantly, can D.C. United really be that bad?
Of all the subplots, none hold a candle to the soap opera in Salt Lake City. Can Jason Kreis organize RSL in time to beat a Red Bulls team that has yet to allow a goal and is fielding one of the league's most dynamic attacks. If he can then the decision to hire him will, for at least a week, look like a stroke of genius.
Columbus Crew at Kansas City Wizards
There is no denying the Crew anymore. Sigi's bunch is playing disciplined and organized soccer, their defense is playing well above its talent level and Ned Grabavoy has provided an attacking spark the club has needed for too long. Even with all that, the Crew still enter this match with something to prove. Can it go on the road and beat an in-form team.
The Wizards have just as many questions. They have three wins and Eddie Johnson has three goals but those all came against teams with a combined record of 0-11. If the Wizards can breakdown a stingy Crew defense then we can consider putting them in a category with the top teams East. Wizards 1, Crew 0.
New York Red Bulls at Real Salt Lake
RSL has a new coach but still has the same serious defensive woes. Kreis might find the right formula to squeeze production out of a talented crop of attackers but it will take a serious work of magic to do something with a back line that lacks talent and a good defensive midfielder to provide support.
The Red Bulls don't have such problems. Their defense has been rock solid, Claudio Reyna has been a marvel in a holding midfield role. The unit, which has posted four shutouts to start the season, will have to fight off an RSL squad that will be fired up to play well for its new coach. Ultimately, talent trumps emotion and the Red Bulls keep their unbeaten streak going. Red Bulls 2, Real Salt Lake 0.
Houston Dynamo at Colorado Rapids
When this match was scheduled many expected a battle between a West Coast leader against a team near the bottom of the standings. Who knew the Rapids would be the first-place team and the Dynamo would be the ones close to the cellar?
The key for Houston is finding a way to get Dwayne De Rosario involved and attacking the way he knows best. There isn't much of a problem with Houston's back line but the midfield needs to do its part. The Rapids midfield has actually been playing very well and won't make things easy in its new stadium. The Dynamo regroup and score a much-needed victory. Dynamo 1, Rapids 0.
Chivas USA at D.C. United
D.C. is still searching for its first win of the season after tying New England on Thursday, and they will have a good chance against a Chivas team dealing with its own turmoil. The Goats will be without Amado Guevara, who was red carded last week and was supposed to be traded to Toronto before the deal fell through.
DC didn't exactly look like a team desperate for a win on Thursday, but Chivas has a defense that will be easier to crack than New England's stingy unit. Christian Gomez hasn't been his MVP self but he steps up and helps the struggling club finally score its first victory. D.C. United 2, Chivas USA 1
Chicago Fire at New England Revolution
The game of the week features the unbeaten Fire and surging Revs. Chicago's defense has enjoyed a strong start even if the offense isn't quite firing on all cylinders yet. Chicago shouldn't expect to see its attack go crazy against a Revs defense that looks much better now that Michael Parkhurst has returned.
New England won't have Shalrie Joseph though and his absence will cost the Revs against a Fire central midfield that will make things difficult for Andy Dorman. Look for Justin Mapp to have a strong game as the Fire stay unbeaten. Fire 1, Revolution 0.
Real Salt Lake at Colorado Rapids
The Kreis era takes RSL to Denver where the Rapids are generally a tough nut to crack Colorado's dynamic offense will be too much for Salt Lake's defense but you could see RSL finally have success offensively. It won't be enough though as the Rapids roll. Rapids 3, Real Salt Lake 2.
Last week: 3-4
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.