Out of nowhere, there was another coaching change during the 2021 MLS season.
Real Salt Lake announced Friday that head coach Freddy Juarez would be departing, effective immediately, for a new opportunity. With RSL punching above expectations so far, there was confusion across the league.
“It happened really quickly," general manager Elliot Fall told media on a virtual press conference Friday. "It was in the last 48 hours that we all sat down and realized this is where things were headed. Freddy expressed the desire to take an opportunity and move on.”
No landing spot has been officially announced for Juarez yet, but The Athletic's Sam Stejskal reports that he will join Brian Schmetzer's staff as an assistant coach for the Seattle Sounders. Seattle GM & president of soccer Garth Lagerwey and technical director Craig Waibel both worked in RSL's front office. In recent weeks, Seattle assistant Gonzalo Pineda departed for Atlanta United's head coach opening, while fellow assistant Djimi Traore returned to Europe.
“It was an emotional conversation," Fall said. "Freddy and I have worked together a long time. He’d been here for more than 10 years in many different capacities. He’s grown up with the organization. Freddy’s body of work speaks for itself, his impact on this club is immense and will be felt for a long time.”
Fall originally joined RSL in 2007 and Juarez had been with the club since 2010 before taking over the first team in August 2019 after the departure of Mike Petke. Now, the Claret & Cobalt are moving into a new era. The front office has begun the search for a new head coach, with assistant Pablo Mastroeni taking over on an interim basis.
“We’re just beginning the process of identifying candidates," Fall said. "We’ve started already compiling lists and moving in the direction of conducting a process.”
“We’re looking for a leader," Fall added. "We’re looking for someone to come in and maximize the talent on this roster, to drive us in a direction we all believe we should be moving forward. This is a club that has seen great heights in the past and should be there again soon. We’re looking for a candidate who can combine all of the resources here.”
Mastroeni has extensive experience in MLS. The former US international spent the majority of his playing career in the league, most extensively with RSL's biggest rivals Colorado Rapids. He managed Colorado from 2014-17, then spent time as an assistant with Houston Dynamo FC before joining RSL last offseason.
“There is not a rush [to name a new head coach], it’s important we get this decision right," Fall said. "It’s important we bring in the right person for Real Salt Lake, both the short-term and long-term. We’re very early in the process, merely hours into the process, so I can’t speak to the timeline and what the landscape will look like.”
RSL currently sit sixth in the Western Conference standings, though fifth through 11th place are separated by just six points. Three of those seven will make the playoffs. It'll be quite the race with most teams having 14 games left.
The Utah-based club, MLS Cup winners in 2009, missed the postseason last year. But they have quality in the ranks, like MLS All-Star midfielder Damir Kreilach, captain Albert Rusnak and former USMNT forwards Bobby Wood and Rubio Rubin.
“Look, we’re in a playoff spot right now and nobody is going to be happy if we don’t close that out," Fall said. "We feel like there’s a lot of talent here, good building blocks … I would certainly say the full intention and focus is on earning a playoff berth and more.”