Real Salt Lake are replacing Jason Kreis with one of the safest bets in Major League Soccer: His right hand man.
The club announced Wednesday that it has promoted longtime goalkeeper coach Jeff Cassar to head coach in Salt Lake City, one week after Kreis left the club to lead 2015 expansion side New York City FC. The deal is for multiple years, RSL president Bill Manning told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Cassar, 39, becomes just the third coach in franchise history after a nine-year run for Kreis that transformed the organization and won an MLS Cup in 2009. Cassar has been on board for all of it – the MLS Cup, the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League run and the team’s appearance in MLS Cup earlier this month – after he was hired just three weeks into Kreis’ tenure in 2007.
“We’re very excited for Jeff to become the third head coach in Real Salt Lake history,” RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen said in a statement. “Jeff’s been a crucial member of the RSL Family since 2007. His terrific leadership abilities, strong character and understanding of our locker room, tactics and overarching club culture will allow us to continue to compete for trophies in 2014 and beyond.”
The Salt Lake Tribune Wednesday reported that, according to Manning, Cassar passed over an opportunity to join Kreis at NYCFC in order to stay at RSL. The paper also reported that before leaving, Kreis gave his thoughts to RSL executives on who should replace him.
Manning confirmed Kassar's NYCFC opportunity on ESPN 700 Radio in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.
"He had an opportunity to go with Jason to New York, but he wanted to be the head coach here," Manning said. "That was very important to us."
RSL have become one of the dominant defensive teams in the league in recent years under Cassar’s leadership, punctuated by a 2010 season that saw them allow a league-record 20 goals in 30 regular season games. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando has also thrived by earning Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year nominations each of the past four seasons and a likely spot on the US national team roster next summer in Brazil.
Cassar – an 11-year veteran during a playing career that dates back to the league’s inception in 1996 – played with Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey and club scout Andy Williams while with the now-defunct Miami Fusion in 2000. He spent the first two years of his career with the Dallas Burn – where he first connected with Kreis – and later retired as a Dallas player following the 2006 season.
"At the end of the day, he really wanted it," Manning told ESPN 700. "And he really challenged us on, ‘why would we change?’ He’s sitting right here with us."
ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle reported last week that Cassar was among three final candidates for the open position, along with former RSL and current New York Red Bulls assistant Robin Fraser and former MLS and US national team star Eric Wynalda.
Wynalda, however, has since denied that he was contacted by the club.
In an interview with ESPN 700's Bill Riley in the wake of his departure last week, Kreis said he expected the club to take the safe route with his replacement. The club has reached the playoffs six consecutive seasons, the longest current streak in the league.
“They’re not going to hire a coach that’s going to come in here and change this culture,” he said. “They’re not going to hire a coach who is going to come in and view the game differently. They’re going to find someone who fits the ethos and philosophy of Real Salt Lake.”
Along with Kreis, RSL lost assistant C.J. Brown to a new deal in the same position with the Chicago Fire earlier this month.
The coaching moves, however, are the biggest news of an otherwise sleepy offseason for the defending Western Conference champs, who have the bulk of their lineup under contract for the 2014 season.
They released four non-starters who were out of contract and traded defender Lovel Palmer – who missed the fateful, final attempt in the penalty kick shootout at MLS Cup on Dec. 7 – to Chicago last week.