SANDY — With each passing year as players cycle in and out of Major League Soccer, the number of guys who've played with or against Jason Kreis dwindles — including just seven of 25 on Real Salt Lake.
Many of those seven have some fond memories of their battles with Kreis.
"We got into it a couple times. He's such a great competitor. Both players didn't want to give up anything," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman, who never played with Kreis but rather against him for seven years before Kreis retired in 2007.
Nick Rimando was a teammate of Kreis through the 2007 preseason and then a handful of games before his sudden retirement to take over as head coach. Playing against him those seven years, Rimando said Kreis got the better of him on numerous occasions as he racked up 108 career goals in a memorable career.
"He's scored multiple ugly goals on me, that's the kind of player he was. He was in the right spot at the right time," said Rimando.
Beckerman said Kreis' work rate and commitment to defend changed the way forwards were viewed in MLS, and paved the way for a new breed of striker like Taylor Twellman.
Because of what Kreis has meant to the league, and particularly Real Salt Lake, the club will honor his career by retiring his No. 9 jersey following Monday's home match against New England at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"It's great. He's such an ambassador for the club. He's the reason why the club is where it's at. He was an unbelievable soccer player, he really is a pioneer in this league," said Beckerman. "He wasn't just a player who would walk around and wait for the ball to come to him. He was constantly moving. He was a fit player, and he did score a ton of goals, but there's a lot of stuff he did without scoring a goal that really helped the team to win."
Ninety-one of Kreis' 108 career goals were scored during his nine seasons in Dallas, with only 17 coming in an RSL uniform.
None of that mattered to RSL owner Dave Checketts. When he made the announcement several months ago about raising the No. 9 into the Rio Tinto Stadium rafters, he took criticism for not only retiring a jersey in the first place, but doing so for a player whose impact on the field was minimal in just over two seasons with Real Salt Lake.
His response was rather simple.
"We understand that retiring a player's number is not a normal part of soccer protocol. While we have great respect for the game, we seek to honor an exceptional player and coach to our organization. Jason was the first player signed at Real Salt Lake, he established and broke significant MLS records while wearing our uniform, has provided exceptional leadership both on and off the field. In my mind, no one at RSL should ever wear No. 9 again," said Checketts.
Since retiring, Kreis has become one of the best coaches in MLS. It's a responsibility he's taken seriously from his very first day on the job.
"I felt like a head coach immediately, from the very first press conference I had to the very first meeting I had with the players, to two days later making my first decision to cut a player, to my first trade. I was thrown into it in such a fashion I don't think I really had time to transition from one to the next," said Kreis. "When you're making a decision about someone's life two days after you take the job, you realize pretty quickly this is for real."
Kreis admitted that Checketts' decision to retire the No. 9 at Real Salt Lake, "was a bit much," even though he was flattered.
Now that the night is nearly here, Kreis said he'll try and enjoy the moment when it comes.
"It's interesting because obviously it's a huge honor and something I'm incredibly grateful for, but we have a big game. My focus and attention is going to be completely on the game. Hopefully (we'll) get a positive result and then afterward have some fun," said Kreis.
Asked if he feels pressure to win because of the postgame festivities, Beckerman said a little bit, but not nearly as much pressure as he felt during the 2010 home opener when RSL's players received their MLS Cup championship rings. The pressure nearly got the better of Salt Lake as it needed a stoppage time equalizer to salvage a draw against Seattle.