Real Salt Lake was always a bridesmaid in 2013, coming three plays short of winning the treble. Instead, the side won no trophies. Just days after the season ended, RSL fans suffered a fourth kick in the teeth when coach Jason Kreis announced he was leaving. That left the front office to pick up the pieces.
Led by owner Dell Loy Hansen, the RSL brass decided to stay the course. They signed lead assistant Jeff Cassar as the squad’s next head coach, let go of a total of five players, and brought two new ones on board (in addition to trialists and draft picks). None of the players who left were regular starters.
It is trophy or bust for this group. They need a second title to cement themselves as a key team in MLS history.
None. Neither of the signings will make a huge difference this season nor will either start a playoff game in 2014. That said, RSL signed:
- Jordan Allen signed to homegrown contract
- Luke Mulholland signed on free transfer
- Lovel Palmer traded to Chicago
- Khari Stephenson out of contract
- Yordany Alvarez sent to Orlando City
Salt Lake has two issues it has to deal with:
- A new coaching staff is getting its legs. Will the squad dip in quality?
- Can this side finally win another title? They haven’t won a major trophy since 2009.
Predictions Part 1
If the squad dips in quality, it won’t show this season. In fact, I think the squad will earn more points this year than it did last year. There are two reasons for that:
- RSL is actually a very young side, and the young players will be a year older and a year better.
- I think Jeff Cassar might be a better in-game coach than Jason Kreis.
Right now, some of you are screaming that I’m a heretic. Hear me out.
Every great coach has at least one extraordinary skill, but that talent is often surrounded by average or above average other skills, which combine to make the coach great. No sane person would say Vince Lombardi was great at developing personal relationships with his players. That wasn’t his skill.
Kreis’ genius was in the philosophy of the squad. He ran the opposite direction from the league, creating a “Team is the Star” culture. I did a lengthy interview with him last season on it, and you can read more about it here. That culture has created stability in personnel and a core of players who are willing to put the team first at all costs.
But that team, with that culture, is still here. With the front office’s support, that culture isn’t changing. Heck, “Team is the Star” is now embroidered on the inside of 2014 jerseys. Cassar probably isn’t the Jason Kreis of creating cultures, but he doesn’t have to be.
But Kreis probably wasn’t the best at making in-game (or pre-game) adjustments. His teams beat the same opponents repeatedly and struggled against the same opponents repeatedly. They often played down to their opponent’s level and struggled to finish off big games (see 2013 season). Their beloved style, which has made them an icon around MLS, wasn’t very adaptable. It is why they struggled every time they played Sporting KC.
Once in a while, they would make a slight adjustment to exploit an opponent’s weakness, and it would pay major dividends. Those adjustments usually came from film study conducted by none other than Jeff Cassar. That was one of his jobs on Kreis’ staff.
My suspicion is that Cassar had suggestions almost every week for Kreis, but that only some of his suggestions were adopted. That will probably change this season.
None of this is to say that Cassar is or will be a better coach than Kreis. None of us know, but the odds (given that Kreis is one of the best MLS has ever produced) are relatively low. If there is a drop-off though, I think it will be in a few years. This core of players is too ingrained in the philosophy to drop off now.
The Real Predictions
So, with that said… I think Real Salt Lake will win one trophy this year: Supporter’s Shield, MLS Cup, or US Open Cup. The side will finish in the top 3 of the Western Conference easily and will challenge for the top spot in the West. They will get more points than they did last season. The side will struggle (slightly) during the first half of the season, and finish on an impressive streak. That success will land them at the top of the MLSsoccer.com power rankings at least once in the last three months of the season.