SANDY, Utah – MLSsoccer.com was able to sit down with Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis and get his feedback on what he thought of his team’s performance in 2010, including the disappointing MLS Cup Playoffs loss, the triumphant win of their group in the CONCACAF Champions League and a variety of other topics.
MLSsoccer.com: What are your overall thoughts on the season for Real Salt Lake?
Kreis: I feel extremely pleased with what the players put into this season. I feel extremely proud of all the statistical landmarks that we reached this year. I feel extremely proud that we’re the first MLS team to win their group in CONCACAF. There’s a ton of extremely positive things to draw from this season. It’s hard for me to walk away with anything but a lot of pride from that, and then I’ve got this one big black mark at the end of it that’s difficult for me to deal with, still.
MLSsoccer.com: As a coach, did you get time to mourn the playoff loss to FC Dallas?
Kreis: The coaches and I have already gone through a really broad plan of what our preseason would look like, and now we’re going to get into, college seniors and the SuperDraft. I’m hopeful that I’ll get some time to myself to vacation, and to take a breath. But through all of this, the game is all sticking with me a lot – that last match. And not just that last match, but the two-game series.
[inline_node:322788]MLSsoccer.com: What do you think was the reason for losing the series?
Kreis: I remember saying this too many times, but even looking back at it now – I feel very strongly that we play a particular type of soccer. And in the way that we play, it demands a lot of energy, a lot of fitness and a lot of movement. And if our team doesn’t have the right amount of energy to make that happen, then I think we get ourselves in some trouble – and that trouble usually comes in a breakdown in a possession, and we give up a quick counterattack, and that’s usually when teams score against us.
So when I think about that series against Dallas, we’re playing the exact type of team that can really cause us troubles, if we’re not at our best. If we’re at our best, I think we handle them, because I think the situation played out right – we scored the first goal.
MLSsoccer.com: Does losing in the playoffs, despite having long stretches during the season where you are fairly dominant, make it all that much tougher to take?
Kreis: I think it does, because I feel like when we came into the locker room after the game it was just utter shock. “What do you mean the season is over? After everything we’ve done this year, the season is over?” None of us even for the slightest moment thought that we weren’t going to advance against FC Dallas. And maybe to a fault – maybe there was a bit of overconfidence there.
MLSsoccer.com: Did you come out of this season with any areas that you feel need improvement?
Kreis: Not really. My thoughts right now in the offseason are surely we want to be a better team. I thought we were a fantastic team, but I also think that we can be better. I think some of that will come through how we manage the energy levels at the end of the season.
MLSsoccer.com: How important was it to win your group in the Champions League?
Kreis: I think it’s pretty outstanding. Obviously Árabe Unido showed themselves to be a weaker opponent this year, not last year when they advanced. This year in our group, I would say that there were three strong opponents. Cruz Azul, for me, they were the top team in Mexico. I think it’s pretty outstanding that we can finish on top of them in the group.
[inline_node:65093]MLSsoccer.com: How do you balance MLS play vs. international play?
Kreis: It’s difficult. Basically what we attempted to do is to say that we want to win it all. That’s what we said to the players. What we said to the staff, and behind closed doors, was a little bit different. It was clearly CONCACAF over Supporters' Shield – we’d never, ever say that to the players. It was always, to the players, "We want to win it all, and we can win it all, and so we’re going for it."
I think that we as a staff really learned something about our younger guys that needed games, in that if you give these guys a little self-belief, if you prop them up and say you guys can do this, we found out that they could, even if it was their first opportunities. It was complete empowerment, and support from us as a staff, where they could not only hear it from us, but see it from us – that we believe in you guys and you can do this. And I think that was an awesome lesson that we learned this year.
MLSsoccer.com: What does the preseason potentially look like?
Kreis: I think that we did establish one thing, last year, and we’ll continue to improve upon that: that a shorter preseason is better than a longer one, at least for where we are right now as a club. So that has meant in my mind, how do we balance this so that we’re not killing our guys before CONCACAF? Because if you kill your guys before CONCACAF, you’ve got another couple weeks before the regular season, then you are back in that same boat – an eight- or nine-week preseason.
That’s too long for me. Our report date will be Jan. 20 or 21. We’ll start training the Monday after that, so it will give us four weeks and one day to start preparing for our first very important game [against Columbus in the CCL quarterfinals, which kick off Feb. 22]. Based on our experience, we think that’s the right amount of time.
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