PHILADELPHIA — Cohesiveness, stability and technique formed the basis of Real Salt Lake’s success under Jason Kreis. But Kreis decamped to New York City FC in December — and now, the responsibility for maintaining those philosophies and principles falls to his former assistant, Jeff Cassar.
Cassar ascended to the top job with a brief to maintain the team-first ethos and retain the attacking, possession-oriented style RSL have cultivated over the past few seasons. The former Dallas and Miami goalkeeper knows how to do the job — he helped Kreis to establish them on his arrival in 2007. But now, he needs to implement them quickly on his own.
“It’s been crazy,” Cassar said after wrapping up his first SuperDraft in mid-January. “It really has. I got the job and I had to hit the ground — not running, I was sprinting. I was a goalie, so I’m so slow. I’m sprinting slowly. But it’s been exciting and busy. We still have a lot of work to do.”
Jeff Cassar (R) served as Jason Kreis’ assistant at Real Salt Lake (Image: USA Today Sports/Russ Isabella).
RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey has placed an emphasis on building a firm structure around his first-time coach and former Fusion teammate to ease the transition. Former head coaches Paul Dalglish (current PDL champions Austin Aztex) and Daryl Shore (NASL side Fort Lauderdale Strikers) bring experience and expertise. Ex-RSL midfielder Andy Williams supplies considerable knowledge of the club and the league after spending the past two years as a club scout.
Cassar also benefits from the consistency within the playing squad. All of the key figures from last season’s run to MLS Cup return. The established, veteran spine of the team — goalkeeper Nick Rimando, defender Nat Borchers, midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales and striker Álvaro Saborío — provides leadership and sets the tone in the locker room. The mix of emerging talents (including recent US selection Luis Gil and promising center back Chris Schuler) and trusted figures (fullbacks Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert, midfielder Ned Grabavoy and forward Robbie Findley feature prominently) ensure the depth and the talent remains.
The consistency within the squad places Cassar in a position to succeed without relieving him of the pressure to deliver immediately. Kreis’ success over the past few seasons created a baseline. Cassar now must find a way to meet or somehow exceed it as he adapts to the top job. Lagerwey said RSL must exhibit some patience in order to allow Cassar to find his way.
“It’s fun. It’s an exciting new challenge,” Lagerwey said. “It’s a new group of guys and a very talented team. But we also have to be patient and understanding that Jeff is a new coach. We have to give him a chance to succeed. When we hit the bumps — which everybody does — we have to support him, be patient and understand that we made him the next head coach for a reason.”
It is now down to Cassar to validate that decision over the long haul.
“I’m very humbled by this opportunity,” Cassar said. “There is pressure to perform because our team is so good. I think with the staff I’ve put together and the way I know this team and this city, we should still keep things going.”
RSL’s Jeff Cassar (L), owner Dell Loy Hansen (C) and Jennifer Cassar (R) pose for a photo after Cassar’s press conference (USA Today Sports/Chris Nicoll).