SALT LAKE CITY — There's still no official word about whether Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis is leaving the team, but his players seem resigned to his imminent departure.
Speaking to reporters after their exit physicals on Monday night – just 48 hours after a heartbreaking MLS Cup loss to Sporting Kansas City – they didn't shy away from talking about Kreis' potential exit. And they were already processing what it would mean to have their manager depart after almost seven years at the helm.
“It's the end of the era of Jason building this club into something grand,” said defender Tony Beltran, who pointed to former owner Dave Checketts, general manager Garth Lagerwey and Kreis as the men who have “done a fantastic job shaping this into one of the most elite clubs in the league. That continues now with [current owner Dell Loy] Hansen. And that may continue forward now without Jason.”
“He's put a foundation that we stand on for next year and the year after that,” said team captain Kyle Beckerman. “It's just the evolution of that. He's a part of the fabric of this club no matter where he is.”
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Players expressed a great deal of respect for Kreis and no small degree of sadness at his possible departure.
“I love Jason,” said midfielder Javier Morales. “I think he's the best coach in my career. That's not going to change. But you have opportunity in your life, and sometimes you have to take it. Maybe it's his time now.”
“He's fantastic man, fantastic leader,” said Beltran. “And that's what happens with great men — they want new challenges. And when presented with that opportunity, I imagine he may take it.”
As he has for weeks — months — Kreis is considering an offer from NYCFC to be the first coach of that MLS expansion franchise. Others may be lurking in the shadows as well.
“We don't want Jason to leave,” said defender Chris Wingert. “But if he does, we'll be rooting for him and happy for him that he's making the best decision for himself and his family.”
Salt Lake players seem to have steeled themselves for Kreis' departure. An announcement is expected soon, perhaps by midweek.
“It's going to be very different if he leaves,” Wingert said. “But does that mean we can't still win a championship? No. I think we have a great group here.”
Beltran said that if Kreis leaves, “We'll have to look at it as a new challenge ourselves. It will also be up to the players to [show] that not everything is just because of him. Just say that Jay may not be here, we can still achieve and we can still do something special. Because that's what he taught us.”
“I think we're going to just continue where he left off and keep trying to build and keep improving,” Beckerman agreed.
Scott Pierce covers Real Salt Lake for MLSsoccer.com.