Real Salt Lake: For Chivas coach Robin Fraser, Saturday's game is a reunion
Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
CARSON, Calif. — Sometimes, the lightest moments can produce momentous change. For Robin Fraser, a text message four years ago enabled him to fulfill a personal goal.
As a result, Fraser will return to Rio Tinto Stadium as the head coach of Chivas USA after serving as an assistant the past 3 1/2 seasons for Real Salt Lake.
"To go there as the opponent is going to be extremely bizarre," Fraser said. "I'd like to say, 'This game has no more significance to me than any other.'
"But the truth is that I have great memories with that team and countless amazing moments in that stadium. I don't even know where the visiting locker room is at Rio Tinto."
Fraser might not have had the chance to find out if he had not transmitted a message to Jason Kreis, who replaced John Ellinger as Real's head coach in May 2007.
"I half-jokingly sent Jason a text: 'Hey, looking for an assistant?' " said Fraser, one of Real's broadcasters and a Phoenix resident at the time.
"He responded with a lot of interest. Within a couple of months, we were able to work it out.
"Once I got there, it was the greatest decision I'd ever made."
That decision allowed the former defender to apply the observations he made during a 16-year playing career, which included 27 games for the United States National Team. In 10 years in Major League Soccer, Fraser was a member of the Best 11 five times and the league's defender of the year twice.
"I've always loved coaching and the mental aspect of the game, the chess aspect of the game," Fraser said. "That's something I've loved ever since I was coaching kids — when I was 24, 25 years old.
"As I got older, I started to formulate my own ideas about the way things should be done. Late in my career, I got more and more frustrated by the fact that these young phenoms were coming into the league and no one would coach them. At times, there wasn't enough emphasis on team tactics. I just think that a lot of things were missed."
With Chivas USA, Fraser and his staff try to miss nothing.
"They're trying to create an environment where everyone knows what they're supposed to be doing, and everyone knows when it's not being done," said midfielder Simon Eliiott, who played with Fraser on two MLS teams and for New Zealand's 2010 World Cup squad.
Heath Pearce, Chivas USA's co-leader in minutes played and a former Bundesliga defender, believes Fraser is making an immediate impact.
"In teams I've played for in the past, guys haven't agreed fully with the system or the philosophy of the coaches," Pearce said. "Here, guys are not just nodding their heads but actually agreeing with what they're trying to accomplish."
After losing its first two games, Chivas USA enters Saturday night's match with a five-game unbeaten streak and two successive wins. Over the past four games, Fraser's team has conceded just one goal.
"Our system is starting to come together, and it's real cool to see," said forward Justin Braun, who played at Skyline High and Salt Lake Community College.
But coaching involves more than technique and tactics, especially with 14 new players on the roster.
"The big thing with Robin is that he's real personable," said Braun, who is playing for his third coach in three years. "You can pretty much talk about anything with him. He'll be real honest with you and speak to you just as if he was another player."
"People who don't know him may think he's a little low-key but he's not," Elliott said. "There's a fierce intelligence there, a competitiveness and a commitment to winning. But it's all delivered in quite an understated way."
Though Real's fans will see Fraser's handiwork first-hand Saturday night, the former assistant refuses to view the game as a chance to surpass his mentor.
"It isn't about me facing Jason at all," Fraser said. "It's Chivas USA facing Real Salt Lake. At the end of the day, it's so not about me. It's about the team."
Yet RSL has made an indelible mark in Fraser's heart. He said he will spend time with his friends and family, which still lives in Park City, and stay in the area until Monday night.
"I have lifelong friendships there," Fraser said. "The friendships will last well beyond soccer and well beyond us being on different teams and different sidelines."
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