KANSAS CITY, Kan. — As the party raged on at Sporting Park on Saturday, and the sea of blue overwhelmed the state-of-the-art stadium much the same way the bitter cold had for the better part of three hours, it was easy to overlook the possibility that we were seeing the end of an era.
Real Salt Lake has played some of the best soccer in MLS over the past five years. While the team's single championship during that span might color it as an underachiever, the fact remains RSL took part in four major finals and did so by playing some of the most attractive soccer the league has seen.
Whether that memory stands the test of time remains to be seen, but what can't be denied about the past half-decade for RSL is that Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey partnered up to build a club the league could be proud of, and constructed it in a way best described as masterful.
This isn't to say Sporting hasn’t been a part of that same elite club, but while Kansas City could be looking at a run of success beyond the MLS Cup it won Saturday (and the U.S. Open Cup it won in 2012), RSL's story is worth discussing because of Kreis' expected departure from the club he helped transform from laughingstock to league power.
The rumors of Kreis' courtship by New York City FC have lingered for months, and there has been a growing belief that Kreis will accept the big-money job offer and take his talents to Manhattan. It has RSL fans understandably nervous, and some can't understand why Kreis would make the move.
For an outside observer, it's pretty simple. NYCFC will have the financial resources to build a powerhouse, the kind of resources Kreis never had with Salt Lake. He would have a chance to work with Manchester City, potentially helping make inroads into a coaching career in Europe. He would have a chance to raise his profile by coaching in the world’s biggest market.
It also can’t be overlooked that RSL has new ownership now, not the same owners who gave Kreis his first chance to be a coach. It would probably be tougher for Kreis to leave RSL if Dave Checketts were still in charge, but with new owner Dell Loy Hansen at the helm, it would be only natural for Kreis to feel less of an obligation to stay beyond the seven seasons he has already put in with RSL.
If Kreis does leave, it shouldn’t be assumed RSL will suddenly fall from the ranks of the league's best. Not with a talented roster, good core of young standouts to build around and the presence of one of the best general managers in MLS in Lagerwey (who has one year left on his own RSL deal). If Lagerwey makes the right hire in replacing Kreis — and New York Red Bulls assistant and former RSL assistant Robin Fraser would be considered a leading candidate — RSL could still be a team to watch in the coming years.
As much as that may be, Saturday still felt very much like the end of an era, when a rookie coach helped transform a struggling small-market team into a league power that played beautiful soccer without the benefit of a big budget.
That is a combination we may never see again in MLS, and it may be an era Kreis struggles to match as he embarks on the next chapter in his career.
SPORTING KC CHANGES LOOM
Winning a championship is a moment you want to take time to soak in, but with the offseason growing shorter and shorter in MLS, Sporting KC isn’t likely to have long to relish Saturday’s title.
Peter Vermes will have a busy offseason trying to figure out how to adjust for potential departures from his MLS Cup title winner, including goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, who could be poised to retire at age 36. The Danish netminder isn’t the only starter who could leave.
Right back Chance Myers is out of contract, Aurelien Collin has made comments about wanting to return to Europe, and Dom Dwyer is reportedly heading to England on loan.
Those four losses would be tough, but SKC could be prepared to handle them. Replacing Nielsen’s leadership won’t be easy, but longtime backup Eric Kronberg could be ready to take on the starting role. Center back Ike Opara played very well in 2013 and is a ready-made replacement for Collin if the MLS Cup MVP makes a move.
Dwyer's departure wouldn't be as devastating given the presence of Claudio Bieler, C.J. Sapong, Teal Bunbury and Soony Saad as forward options. Bieler's future with the team seemed shaky at best after the designated player lost his starting job late in the year, but Vermes insisted after Saturday’s final that Bieler will be back in 2014, telling Goal that Bieler was a part of the team's plans next year.
Myers would be one of the tougher players to replace in a league where consistent right backs are hard to come by. Myers told Goal after Saturday’s final that he is open to making a move to Europe.
NEW BOSS IN MONTREAL?
Back in early November, Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo went out of his way to shoot down a report that he was replacing coach Marco Schallibaum with Italian great Alessandro Nesta. He vehemently denied the claim, but didn't exactly give Schallibaum a vote of confidence.
A month later, rumblings out of Montreal are that the Impact are ready to make a change and part ways with Schallibaum. What remains unclear is just who the Impact would replace him with. Assistant coach Mauro Biello had been linked to the job a year ago before Montreal settled on Schallibaum.
If Schallibaum is indeed out, the volatile Swiss coach will have lasted just one season on the job, a year that saw the Impact make the playoffs for the first time, but by the narrowest of margins due to a late-season collapse after initially looking like a team competing for the Eastern Conference title.
COACHING CAROUSEL UPDATE
The Vancouver Whitecaps, FC Dallas and Chivas USA remain without coaches as we head into the first week of the offseason, and it is unclear just when all three positions will be filled.
The Whitecaps are expected to make a decision this week, and while they have been linked to everyone from Bob Bradley to Kreis, sources tell Goal the Whitecaps are more likely to settle on a lower-profile replacement for Martin Rennie.
FC Dallas was supposed to have a coach in place by now, but the team's pursuit of former MLS MVP and current Lanus boss Guillermo Barros Schelotto has delayed matters. Sources tell Goal that FCD’s reluctance to pay an exorbitant release clause for Schelotto's services is the main sticking point, which is understandable considering the team is already on the hook for Schellas Hyndman's remaining contract as well as whatever it would pay Schelotto.
Chivas USA remains the mystery team, with no clear coaching choice in sight after Francisco Palencia joined former coach Jose Luis Real at Chivas Guadalajara.
Who else might take the job? Former U.S. national team coach Steve Sampson has been linked to the position before, and openly stated he would love the opportunity. Colorado assistant Wilmer Cabrera has also been linked to the job.
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