The quintessential 'reluctant star'
The original plan was to be a doctor. Maybe a veterinarian. That's why he got the Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Duke University.
That would have been fitting. A life devoted to doing something for others. Certainly that would have suited Jason Kreis more than a decade in the spotlight, and MUCH more than being in the glare of national attention. But that's what a fella gets for breaking Major League Soccer's career goal-scoring record. You go around breaking records, people are going to talk.
Kreis would just as soon it not be all about him, because to the man himself, it's not about him. It's about his team, his teammates, his family. Winning. He may be the quintessential "reluctant star."
It wouldn't even be right to call him a reluctant superstar, because a superstar is something the Dallas Burn forward and MLS's all-time goal-scoring leader is not. The word "superstar" has a connotation. It's about flash and glamour and limousines and entourages.
D.C. United's Freddy Adu, who continues to learn the game, is nonetheless a superstar. Soccer's world superstars are named Beckham and Zidane and Henry.
Jason Kreis is not a superstar. He's a grinder. He's a woodworker. He's a baby-sitter.
And he's a big softie. Jason Kreis, ladies and gentlemen, will cry in public.
"Let's not go overboard here", chuckles Kreis at the joking suggestion that he harbors a secret love for chick flicks. But one of the things average fans may not know about Kreis is that he is the walking embodiment of still waters running deep. He may not make a lot of noise or seek out the cameras, but Kreis is an emotional guy.
On July 10, before kickoff of their game with Columbus at the Cotton Bowl, the Burn held a public ceremony to commemorate Kreis's record-shattering accomplishment.
They flew former record-holder Roy Lassiter in to be part of it. The Inferno, the Burn's loyal supporters group, presented their hero with an autographed flag and a gift certificate to his favorite woodworking shop in the amount of $89, one for every goal it took to establish the new mark. Kreis's teammates presented him with a dovetail jig (a fancy woodworking saw). The club donated four tickets for the Kreis family to vacation in Hawaii, and the ball used to score the record 89th goal was mounted in a magnificent trophy case with a team photo.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, Jason Kreis's eyes grew as red as his jersey and tears of appreciation flowed down his cheeks.
The same reaction came from Kreis in the locker room after his record-breaking goal on June 26, when his teammates popped champagne corks and gifted him with an autographed jersey. That moment, not the one when the scored the goal, is what Kreis calls his happiest in a nine-year MLS career.
"I'm an emotional guy," he says in an unemotional moment, "and if I care about someone I have no problem showing that. People who I care about who care about me will see that side of me."
Even now, more than three weeks after the fact, Kreis has trouble admitting that breaking the record was a pretty cool thing to do, and it's not false modesty.
"I just think it's so temporary", he says, repeating what he's said about breaking the record since before he did it. "It'll be a year or two before it's broken."
What WAS cool to him was that pregame ceremony.
"To think I was important to people who are important to me, that was something," he says. "It was like being on a game show."
Another thing people may not know about Jason Kreis is that his post-playing ambitions no longer include veterinary medicine, but they do include coaching. In fact, he'd love to be a head coach in MLS, because while he refuses to take himself seriously, he does give weight to his role as a leader. It's a role he's held on the Burn for years because of his attitude and work ethic, and it was further validated this year when new manager Colin Clarke made him team captain before the season started, even when he was still rehabilitating the knee he injured last August and not yet ready to play.
"I don't know if actually wearing the armband has made me any more of a leader," he says thoughtfully, "but it has given me more insight into the leadership role. That's mainly because Colin has given me information and sought my opinion in a way that hadn't happened before. I like it."
What he also still likes, by the way, is playing, and Burn fans should be thrilled to learn that Jason Kreis intends to keep playing past this season.
"I'm always year to year at this stage," he says with trademark caution. "But I want to play as long as I'm having fun and making a contribution and as long as I'm wanted. If I'm afraid of anything, it's overstaying my welcome. I don't want to be pushed out because I'm not good enough anymore."
But a player as self-effacing as Jason Kreis will know when that time is at hand, and he knows it's not yet.
After that awful knee injury last Aug. 13, he went through a couple of weeks where he questioned whether playing any more was the right thing to do. That feeling passed. He knows now that committing to the rehab, to the comeback, to continuing his career was the right decision.
The league shares the opinion. His coaches and teammates, and fans, certainly do.
Jason Kreis is no superstar. But he is a superstar. If he's of a mind to shed a public tear, we could all do worse than reach for a hanky.
Brad Sham is in his seventh season doing play-by-play for Dallas Burn television broadcasts.