LEHI, Utah — Real Salt Lake came into the 2011 season with a couple of question marks over their defense: Could they match their record-setting defensive performance of a year ago, and would incoming defensive assistant coach C.J. Brown be able to fill the shoes of the departed Robin Fraser?
Both are still works in progress, but the overwhelming sentiment is so far, so good.
It seemed unlikely that RSL could hold their opponents to a combined 20 goals on the season this year, the incredible feat they achieved in 2010. With the schedule ballooning to 34 games in 2011, the team would need to be even more stingy in this campaign.
However, that 20-goal mark amounted to a little over five goals in every eight matches. This season — eight games in — RSL have only conceded twice, putting them on pace for just nine goals for the entire campaign.
“We work very hard as a coaching staff, not only to coach players out on the field but also in scouting opponents and scouting potential players to bring in,” head coach Jason Kreis said. “We really are an all-encompassing unit that does everything they can to help each other out in every way they can. I think that’s the single best quality that we have ... that we work so hard.”
Having a defensive unit that’s been together for several years helps. And boasting prolific defensive forces such as Nat Borchers, 2010 Defender of the Year Jámison Olave and veteran goalkeeper Nick Rimando doesn’t hurt, either.
For that reason, the key to the success of new assistant coach Brown was more about continuity than anything else.
“I think he’s doing really well,” Kreis said. “And I think he’s been important to what we’ve accomplished so far in the season. I think he’s also got a way to go until he’s as comfortable as he will be, and as he should.”
One of the most important tests early on was for Brown to fit in and earn the respect of his players. That’s already happening, but is still ongoing, says Kreis.
“I think he’s still gaining a voice, and those things take time until you have the confidence to get after guys a little bit more,” Kreis said. “But you see him having individual discussions with guys here and there, and they value his opinion of the game. And they know he’s been through all the experiences that they are going through.”
For Brown, the transition from player to assistant coach has taken some adjustment.
“It’s not easy filling Robin’s shoes, and I don’t think that’s the intention,” the former Chicago Fire defender said. “They’ve built a good team, and for me it’s finding out where I fit in.”
“It’s not as easy as you think as a player,” he added. “There are a lot of details in the work that we do. You’re looking at every detail of every player. You’re trying to give your players every advantage possible. So we watch every game possible to help us do that. It’s a lot more hours than you think.”