As the Best of 2013 continues on MLSsoccer.com, we're counting down the 10 most important stories of the year in Major League Soccer. On Dec. 30, we'll reveal the Story of the Year, as voted by our panel of 20 editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists.
Senior editor Nick Firchai is up next at No. 6 with his look at a big decision for Jason Kreis, who opted to leave the comforts of Real Salt Lake for a new challenge with New York City FC.
There’s really no way to put it lightly: Job security in the coaching ranks of Major League Soccer was at a premium in 2013.
Eight of 19 clubs will end the calendar year next week with a different man in charge than the one who ushered them in 12 months ago, and two of those – FC Dallas and Chivas USA – don’t even know yet who that man will be when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.
During a year when we saw the reigning Coach of the Year leave town, a club icon let go during a summer swoon and a decisive owner bring down the scythe on his second gaffer in two seasons, how many MLS coaches were truly safe? Of course there are the league’s untouchables – Bruce Arena and Dominic Kinnear always sleep well this time of year – but outside of just a handful of faces returning in 2014, who didn’t break a sweat at some point along the way?
- BEST OF 2013: Check out all the Stories of the Year
Here’s one: Jason Kreis. When nearly half the coaches in the league had one foot in boiling water, he ordered the lobster.
Try and recall another coaching shift like this one in league history. Just try. Is it as big as Kreis going from his DIY league powerhouse at Real Salt Lake to the great unknown of New York City FC, the expansion franchise backed by Manchester City that, despite its financial fortitude, has no players, no stadium and no history?
Bruce Arena’s rescue mission to save the LA Galaxy in 2008? Sigi Schmid leaving Columbus for an expansion debut in Seattle a year later? Peter Nowak bringing soccer to Philadelphia in 2010?
All made their share of headlines, but there’s something that separates New York City in 2015. Forget the big-market, small-market talk. New York City will be the market in two years, because no one knows what to expect, and with one of the league’s best coaches in charge of one of the most demanding organizations, it will be absolutely fascinating to watch.
So how exactly did Kreis get caught up in all this? Trace it back to the departure of his good friend and former RSL owner Dave Checketts, who sold his stake in the club to Utah businessman Dell Loy Hansen back in January. Even in March, RSL staff members – including some on the coaching staff – began wondering if Kreis would return at year’s end, which of them would last and which would get pinched by a successful but fiscally conservative owner who somewhat ominously told The Salt Lake Tribune weeks into the season that he was a man who fixes “broken things.”
Without a new deal on the table for 2014 and beyond, Kreis lived in limbo for the much of the season. With no clear indication the club would pony up to bring him back, he accepted the hand of Manchester City execs and flew to England in late summer to discuss the NYCFC job, a trip that would eventually help land him the gig and lingered over RSL’s entire run to the MLS Cup final.
Although there was some uncertainty among Salt Lake insiders that Kreis would take the job even up to the final days before his decision, he knew he was ready for the challenge. RSL had become the safest route possible after seven straight years in the postseason, and he was resting easy with a nice place up in Park City and exactly the kind of players he wanted in his locker room.
Said Kreis: “Now’s our time to really see if there’s another big mountain to climb.”
And then he was gone, with little additional insight into the most intriguing part: What exactly NYCFC will do with him now. Asked last month by MLSsoccer.com about upcoming plans for Kreis amid the fallout of his RSL departure, a club official put it this way: “Who knows? He’s gone. He’s part of the Manchester City machine now.”
We won’t see Kreis in NYCFC colors until January, when he’s officially rolled out during a press conference in New York. We won’t see him coach again for more than a year, after some serious immersion with the mothership at Man. City. We won’t know if he’s a success until summer 2015. We might not know if all this was worth it for two years, or maybe more.
But with a story this good, of course we can wait.