When Real Salt Lake lost Jason Kreis to Toronto FC in the expansion draft last November, not reacquiring the veteran was not an option according to owner Dave Checketts.
Within an hour after the draft, Checketts gladly had his front office shell out a partial allocation (essentially salary cap space) to reacquire Kreis from the sly Toronto organization. The reasoning behind that surprising move became apparent Thursday.
"I didn't do that because I thought we'd miss him as the captain, I did it because I wanted his relationship with this franchise to continue long term and his family to be settled in Utah, because I knew at some point he would be the head coach of this club," said Checketts.
Who knew that it would take less than six months for that foresight to become reality.
Just four games into the 2007 season, and just two days before RSL hosts league front-runner New York, Kreis was introduced as the club's new head coach Thursday, which coincides with his immediate retirement as a player from Major League Soccer.
The 12-year MLS veteran finishes his career as the all-time leading scorer with 108 goals, in addition to ranking in the top five in games, starts, minutes, shots and shots on goal.
The decision to relieve former RSL coach John Ellinger was something Checketts admits was necessary, and Monday's 2-0 loss to Colorado was essentially the last straw.
"Today is a bittersweet day for the franchise. It's always difficult when you make decisions like this, but I know that the decisions that we've made today are the right ones for our franchise," said Checketts. "This is just a results-oriented business, those of us who've been in this for a while understand that, sometimes we wish it were different, but it is about results."
Ellinger will remain with the organization and has been reassigned as the team's technical director of soccer operations. In another move, Checketts announced that he's accepted the resignation of general manager Steve Pastorino.
Ellinger finishes his Real coaching career with a 15-37-16 record, including an 0-2-2 record this year. The team had lofty expectations entering the 2007 campaign, but that winless start ultimately cost Ellinger his job.
Kreis, who is now the youngest full-time coach in MLS history, believes he can get things heading the right way despite his lack of coaching experience.
"I believe we have a good team, my moving from a player to a coach doesn't change that opinion," said Kreis. "I'm a firm believer that we have the right pieces in place here. I do think it's going to take a little tinkering, the biggest one for me is there needs to be a mentality change, and it needs to be right away."
Kreis, 34, is two years younger than Richie Williams was last season when he took over the New York coaching vacancy on an interim basis before Bruce Arena joined the team. Ironically enough, Checketts never offered the job in the form of a player coach, and Kreis never suggested it either.
Tactically, Kreis didn't want to divulge any of his plans, but it's hard to imagine him sticking with the unpopular 4-5-1 formation. A shift to a more traditional 4-4-2 approach seems inevitable.
As happy as Kreis was about signing the multi-year contract as RSL's new coach, he echoed Checketts' thoughts about the bittersweet thought of Ellinger's departure.
"It saddens me deeply to have to say goodbye to John Ellinger as my head coach," said Kreis. "Any time there is a change in the coaching staff, it should be viewed by the players as their failure as well."
Despite their new roles, Ellinger will continue to work closely with Kreis in personnel-related matters like scouting and player acquisitions.
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