A quick point of order before I dive in: Before I started contributing to this website a couple of years ago, I spent two years in Real Salt Lake’s communications department.
During my first year and a half in Utah, Jason Kreis was head coach of RSL. I saw every game he coached and just about every training session he ran from July 2012 until his departure for New York City FC at the end of the 2013 season. I got to know a little bit about him away from the field, too.
My time in Utah biased me towards Kreis, but I know I’m not alone in thinking that he’s an excellent coach.
I don’t expect I’ll be alone in writing that Orlando City made an absolutely killer move by hiring him as their replacement for Adrian Heathon Tuesday, either.
By now, most of you probably know Kreis’ story. He retired as a player to take over as RSL head coach midway through the 2007 season and quickly turned the then-woebegone franchise into a perennial contender. He and the rest of the RSL technical staff made smart acquisitions within the league, brought in excellent foreign signings, and implemented what I believed to be the league’s most attractive and effective possession game. His players largely loved him, and his teams were damn good, winning MLS Cup in 2009 and making three more finals before he traded Salt Lake for the Big Apple in December 2013.
Things obviously didn’t go as smoothly for Kreis in New York. He wasn’t blameless for New York City FC’s eighth-place finish in 2015, but I don’t think that should be held against him too much. Making the playoffs with an expansion club is nigh-impossible task, one that’s only been accomplished three times in league history. Firing your head coach for failing to pull that off is pretty harsh.
Not that Orlando are complaining. NYCFC’s decision (which, it should be noted, has worked out just fine for them) is now their gain.
Kreis checks all the boxes laid out by Orlando president Phil Rawlins in what he wanted for his next head coach. He has a track record of success in the US, is committed to playing an attacking, possession-heavy style, has an in-depth knowledge of MLS rules, and the chops to cajole Orlando City above the red line and into the playoffs.
Orlando’s roster isn’t perfectly suited to the diamond formation Kreis has long preferred, but that’s fine for now. I expect he’ll be pragmatic with his pieces this year, looking to line up in the formation that best suits Orlando’s personnel as they search for one of the (very attainable) top six spots in the East.
In the long run, Kreis will likely have an opportunity to mold the roster – and Orlando’s playing style – to his liking. The Lions have vacillated between exciting and wildly frustrating in their first season-and-a-half in MLS. If given time, I think Kreis will eventually even them out, and have Orlando in the playoffs on a yearly basis.
I think this is a slam dunk hire for Orlando. I also think it’s a pretty big gamble for Kreis.
This is a coach who’s endured some pretty serious volatility over his last two years on the bench. His ups and downs with NYCFC were well chronicled. Less well-known were the significant changes he dealt with during his final year at RSL, when Dell Loy Hansen, who was previously a minority investor, took over as sole owner of the club from founder Dave Checketts. The changes he made weren’t necessarily negative, but they were changes – shocks to the relatively stable system Kreis had constructed around himself in Utah.
You’d think that a coach who dealt with so many transitions in recent years would want as stable a situation as possible for his next job. If recent history is any indication, it doesn’t look like that's a guarantee in Central Florida.
Orlando shook up their front office following their expansion season in 2015. They hired Portuguese Armando Carneiro as chief soccer officer last November, a move that demoted GM Paul McDonough, who subsequently left the club before being hired shortly thereafter by Atlanta United. Carneiro then abruptly departed in December due to “personal reasons.” He left a hole at the top of the team’s technical staff that remains unfilled, as Orlando – who hired former agent Niki Budalic as assistant GM last year – are still operating without a GM.
Kreis, of course, knew all of this before taking the job. He’s one of the most meticulous people I’ve ever met, and I’m sure he fully considered what he was getting into before signing with Orlando. Still, with Atlanta still looking for their first coach and other opportunities with former colleagues potentially set to open in the offseason, I can’t help but be a bit surprised that Kreis jumped at Orlando.
But that’s on me. After all, this is a man whose personal motto, one he had painted on a wall at Rio Tinto Stadium, is “Audentis Fortuna Juvat,” Latin for “fortune favors the bold.”
He knows that every decision is a risk, every change an opportunity. Orlando made theirs in firing Heath. Kreis made his in joining the Lions. Now we all get to see how it plays out.