Jason Kreis’ tenure at Real Salt Lake officially ended on Tuesday night, when he invited each of his players to his home for dinner and frank conversation about the future.
Kreis, the 40-year-old rising star of the Major League Soccer coaching ranks who lifted RSL from the expansion doldrums to a league power, has officially stepped down from his position with RSL, and will accept the head coaching position at New York City FC, the 2015 MLS expansion franchise backed by EPL powerhouse Manchester City.
Flanked by the players he helped guide to the MLS Cup final last Saturday, Kreis informed the team of his decision, and is now expected to make his first public comments about the move to realsaltlake.com on Wednesday.
"I'd like to thank Jason for a remarkably successful run during his nine years with Real Salt Lake as both a player and as a head coach," RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen said in a statement. "Jason obviously leaves the Utah soccer scene significantly better than he found it, building the competitive foundation of one of Major League Soccer's elite organizations.”
According to New York City FC, Kreis will assume the role formally in January and will travel to England to spend time with Manchester City, including head coach Manuel Pellegrini and the club's technical staff to observe "the club’s approach to coaching, training, and player development, with the goal of applying similar approaches to New York City FC."
“I am looking forward to making my contribution to New York City FC from the very outset," Kreis said in an NYCFC statement. "The opportunity to develop the first professional club based in New York City was impossible to pass up as was the chance to immerse myself in the football operations in Manchester observing some of the leading figures in European football.
"There will be a lot to do before our inaugural season in 2015, but I’m confident that with the support teams in the City organization, we will be well placed to hit the ground running."
Added NYCFC director of soccer Claudio Reyna: "Jason is one of the true pioneers of Major League Soccer, and a leader any team would be proud to have at the helm. His skills and experience, together with his commitment to quality football make him the ideal choice to lead New York City FC in its first season and beyond.
"He has already left a historic mark on the league, both as a player and coach and we have every confidence in him continuing to do so at New York City FC.”
Hansen told MLSsoccer.com’s ExtraTime Radio podcast last week that RSL put a “very, very big number out in front of [Kreis]” to return next season after his existing contract expired at the end of the 2013 season, and reports indicated the number was big enough to make Kreis the third-highest paid coach in the league.
But Hansen also insisted that Kreis’ decision to leave would not be about differing opinions or financial details but rather about the head coach’s ambitions after enjoying such success at RSL.
“It’s not about a falling out, a lack of resources or any actions between us,” said Hansen, who referred to Kreis as a man with “mountains to climb” in his career. “It’s about, is this is the opportunity that he thinks is the best for himself?”
Real Salt Lake are expected to announce Kreis’ replacement next week.
"We are certain that the job Jason leaves behind – with both the accomplished veteran core and the glut of promising youth – is quite attractive to potential candidates," Hansen said in the statement.
Salt Lake City-based radio station ESPN 700 reported shortly after the announcement of Kreis' departure that RSL assistant Jeff Cassar, current New York Red Bulls assistant Robin Fraser (formerly an assistant with RSL and head coach of Chivas USA) and former USMNT star Eric Wynalda were the top three candidates for the coaching position:
"While we will not divulge the names of the candidates, we have had and will continue to have discussions with multiple individuals regarding one of the premium jobs in Major League Soccer," an RSL spokesperson told MLSsoccer.com regarding the coaching search. "We expect to announce our third head coach by the end of next week."
Traded from the Dallas Burn to Real Salt Lake ahead of the Utah team’s expansion season in 2005, Kreis eventually took over as head coach midway through the 2007 season after he was hand-picked for the job by former owner Dave Checketts.
RSL reached the Eastern Conference Championship the next season and followed with an unlikely run to the MLS Cup title in 2009, the first crown in league history. He guided RSL to six consecutive postseason appearances, capped by last weekend’s loss to Sporting Kansas City in a penalty kick shootout in the MLS Cup final.
Kreis leaves RSL with a 90-57-71 record, with no fewer than 15 wins over the past four seasons. His 63 regular-season wins since 2010 is second among active coaches in the league behind the LA Galaxy’s Bruce Arena (68), who RSL toppled in the Western Conference Semifinals last month on the road to the MLS Cup.
He also led the team to the finals of the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League - still the only MLS team in the current incarnation of the tournament to reach the title game - as well as the US Open Cup final in October.
“He's put a foundation that we stand on for next year and the year after that,” RSL team captain Kyle Beckerman said this week. “It's just the evolution of that. He's a part of the fabric of this club no matter where he is.”
Rumors linking Kreis to the New York City FC job were first reported by SI.com in September, with Kreis reportedly visiting with Manchester City leadership about taking the job. In the interview last week with ExtraTime Radio podcast, Hansen confirmed that Kreis had traveled to England after asking for permission to speak with Manchester City representatives.
Kreis steered clear of comments about the NYCFC rumors leading up to MLS Cup last week, but then addressed his pending choice after the team’s emotional loss in Kansas City.
"It’s interesting that the last couple of weeks have been so hectic with all the details to consider and all the preparations for the match and families coming to the Cup and hotel rooms and tickets and everything else," said Kreis, who fought off tears while entering his postgame press conference. "But all of that was pretty easy. What happens over the next couple of days is real hard."
Real Salt Lake officials met with players for their annual exit meetings on Monday night and Tuesday morning, but it appears unlikely that any players will leave in the wake of the Kreis news.
"Our top 15-17 guys wanna come back," an RSL official told MLSsoccer.com.
It’s unclear, however, if Cassar or assistant Miles Joseph will stay on with the team. Assistant C.J. Brown joined the Chicago Fire coaching staff on Wednesday.
General manager Garth Lagerwey – who has known Kreis since they played together at Duke in the early 1990s – is under contract with RSL through 2014.