NEW YORK – Perhaps only Jason Kreis would consider the next year – six months spent in Manchester and six in New York City – a break.
After all, he’s got a world-class coaching staff to shadow, an MLS-ready squad to piece together and a club to build, essentially, from scratch. Not to mention the unenviable logistics of dragging his wife and school-aged sons around the world to do so.
“It’s going to be a whirlwind,” Kreis said, an understatement if there ever was one.
But, as he reiterated on Friday after being introduced as New York City FC’s first-ever head coach, the decision to leave the comfortable confines at Real Salt Lake was all about opportunity. And there will certainly be no shortage of that with the considerable resources of Manchester City backing his efforts at every turn.
Turns out, it’s also an opportunity for Kreis to return to management “refreshed” once his six-month stint in Manchester spent soaking up anything and everything he can comes to a close, a feeling the 41-year-old had been pursuing long before NYCFC entered the picture.
“I’ve been thinking about this now for the past two years or so. I needed a little bit of a break,” Kreis told reporters at the Grand Hyatt hotel in the shadow of Grand Central Terminal. “I think in our profession, you can literally drive yourself insane if you’re not very careful and you don’t have the right support structure.
“For me, I kept thinking of creative ways to look for opportunities that would mean I could maybe step away for a little bit and breathe. Everything about [this opportunity] kind of fit in exactly with what I wanted for my career.”
Likewise, Kreis’ impeccable credentials – becoming the youngest-ever MLS head coach, MLS Cup winner, unabashed purveyor of the beautiful game – dovetailed with what NYCFC director of soccer Claudio Reyna was searching for as well.
Reyna insisted the club did its due diligence and considered other candidates, but it was Kreis’ ability to cultivate a club culture and inspire respect and commitment from his players, not to mention an encyclopedic knowledge of MLS, that set him apart.
And once Kreis visited with the NYCFC and Manchester City brain trust for 48 hours in September, it became clear both sides were on the same page from a philosophical perspective as well. From there, a historic partnership was born.
“He was at the top of the list, and it was very clear to me when we met that he was the right person to fit the philosophy we have here,” Reyna said. “We’re just bringing him in. We don’t have to change anything. He knows what he’s doing. … It was always important to me to have first an American coach, but an American coach who specifically had a tremendous amount of knowledge of the league. Jason ticked all the boxes.”
In Kreis, NYCFC land their third American figurehead – alongside Reyna and chief business officer Tim Pernetti, not to mention former RSL assistant coach Miles Joseph – in an effort to exist not as a subsidiary of their English parent club but as New York City’s team.
The expectations that surround such a label are well known. Fans in the five boroughs expect success. And they expect it quickly and painlessly, with a rabid media contingent ready to pounce on and magnify every misstep.
Outwardly, Kreis seemed nonplussed by the prospect of stepping under the nation’s biggest sporting microscope. He argued that he puts more pressure on himself than any outside force possibly could, and said that the bigger transition may be the culture shock that comes with living in a metropolis that dwarfs Salt Lake City.
However, he also wasn’t shy about making promises, not that outside expectations come 2015 could get much higher anyway.
“We know that we’re expected to win,” Kreis said, “and, frankly, we will win.”
The expectation, emanating from his Manchester-based bosses as well as himself, is that those wins will come via an attractive, proactive style of play. Candidly, Kreis wouldn’t have been hired had his views on the game not mirrored those of his new employers.
“We have a philosophy of football, and then we sign the right manager,” Manchester City director of football Txiki Begiristain said. “We have the right one in Manchester, and we have the right one here in New York.”
And now Kreis has roughly a year to make sure he’s refreshed and ready to merge what worked so well at RSL with the resources that make Manchester City such a powerhouse on a worldwide stage. He’s got a fan base to earn, a soccer family to create.
Most of all, Kreis has the opportunity of a lifetime staring him in the face and the gumption to reach out and take it.