The clock was pretty obviously ticking on Jeff Cassar from Week 1 of this 2017 MLS regular season, and after three games, one goal and no wins, the bell tolled.
It came earlier in the year than most would've wagered upon, I think. In large part that's because RSL have been beset by injuries this season – Joao Plata has missed the last two games, and neither first-choice center backs Justen Glad nor Aaron Maund have played a minute, and Jordan Allen got hurt in Week 2, and so-on and so-forth. It's been misery upon misery for this team, and I figured that would buy Cassar a bit of time.
It didn't, and I can't blame RSL's front office for the ultimate decision because while injuries defined the first part of 2017, they really didn't do much in terms of shaping the latter part of 2016, which is when the wheels truly fell off. RSL went winless in their final seven games last season, couldn't score even when they were healthy, and never seemed to adjust their personnel or formation unless forced.
To put it bluntly: I don't understand why Cassar spent so much time married to the 4-3-3 (which played like a 4-2-1-3 during both the Javier Morales and Albert Rusnak eras). It demanded more field coverage than Kyle Beckerman could really offer at d-mid, it asked for real, dogged defensive work from Plata and since-departed Burrito Martinez – neither of whom defended/defend happily – and it was never particularly cohesive on either side of the ball.
My other big issue with the formation was that the 4-3-3 moved Plata further from goal and turned him into an individualist, while at the same time asking Yura Movsisyan to plough a lone furrow. These guys should be a pretty natural forward pairing, and it's incumbent upon the next coach to figure out some sort of two-forward lineup that gets these guys working together.
For what it's worth: Regular readers of this column know I'm a stan for the diamond midfield, but I don't really think it needs to be that exact look. A version of the Galaxy's old "Y midfield" might actually make more sense, or even a flat 4-4-2.
Either way, though, the next coach should make a change. And speaking of that "next coach" bit:
So what's next for @RealSaltLake? Do they knock on Robin Fraser's door? Mike Petke (not likely IMO)? Need manager w/ faith in HGs.— Andrew Wiebe (@andrew_wiebe) March 20, 2017
"The process for a hiring new head coach to lead the club has already begun," is what GM Craig Waibel said in a release. "We will work quickly and diligently to ensure that we find the right leader that shares our values, passion, commitment and vision."
That explains Wiebe's "not likely IMO" aside in his tweet about Petke. The Supporters' Shield-winning coach with the Red Bulls in 2013 is already under contract with the organization as head coach of Real Monarchs, and most assumed he was coach-in-waiting for RSL itself. But if that was the case, they would've simply appointed him after cutting ties with Cassar, right?
Not that Petke won't get an interview, of course. But it already feels like a long shot.
I think, though, it's safe to assume that whoever does get tapped for the job will be tasked with not only righting the ship, but also with turbo-charging the youth movement. Cassar deserves some credit for that with Glad's development, but the feeling from folks around the team and league is that RSL need to be mentioned in the same breath as FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls in terms of the quality and quantity of their Homegrown pipeline if they're going to compete not just on the field, but as a business.
MLS is becoming more and more a part of the global market, and RSL's academy is producing talent, and you should go ahead and do the math from there.
So if figuring out how to get the DPs working together up top is the first bullet point to hit for the next RSL manager, figuring out how to get the kids more productive in more minutes is the second. Omar Holness should play; and can we see Allen as an inverted, playmaking left midfielder; and Brooks Lennon can lead the line for a bit, and so on and so forth, etc etc etc.
Regardless, the season of change is officially here, and the MLS coaching carousel has officially begun. Folks in Sandy will certainly hope that means a clearer path forward, and a bit of rejuvenation for a franchise that's slowly declined over the past three seasons.