SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake head coach Jeff Cassar is at a contract crossroads with the end of the 2016 season.
While he has led RSL to two playoff appearances in his three years, he still doesn’t have a yes or no answer when it comes to whether next year will start with him at the helm.
“We’ll be addressing it over the next week,” RSL general manager Craig Waibel said. “Part of that step is evaluating the coaching staff.”
In summing up the season a week after losing 3-1 to the LA Galaxy in the Knockout Round of the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs, Waibel was clear that RSL aren't a finished product. Early-season success provided some higher expectations and optimism that weren’t met at the end of the season, though the focus remains on the long term.
Just like the young players on the roster, Cassar is still growing and learning as a head coach.
“He improved,” Waibel said of Cassar. “There was more commitment by him to enforce and engage this formation shift.
“His leadership has grown. He's a third-year head coach. Sometimes people forget that just because a team has been around doesn’t mean every coach has. He grew tremendously in the way he's capable of communicating and his management abilities.”
After taking this week to evaluate players and conduct interviews with them, Waibel and the RSL front office will use the next few days to do the same with the coaching staff.
Cassar's own self-evaluation confirms that he has room to grow. But he would love to do it with this RSL team, however it looks next year.
“You're always looking to make improvements in areas,” Cassar said to RSL flagship radio station ESPN 700. “Sometimes they're big ones and sometimes they're small tweaks. When you have the third-most minutes [played by] players under 23 [in MLS] – that's a positive.”
RSL's early-season success gave way to eight games without a win to finish the year. That rough closing stretch also gave Cassar something to think about for next year.
“At the end of the day, it's probably problem solving,” Cassar said. “The last eight games and not being able to pick up the points we needed to. Looking back, was it decisions? Was it player selection? Players' choices? Now we need to look at those areas to make the next step in how to manage and deal with those situations and getting the results that we wanted to.”
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando doesn’t get to make the final decision, but says he would love to see Cassar back.
“I enjoy playing for him,” Rimando said. “If he's the coach I'm going to be happy, and working my butt off again.”