SANDY — Real Salt Lake didn’t have to look far to find its new head coach. It was the guy sitting to Jason Kreis’ right the past seven years.
Jeff Cassar, 39, was promoted from RSL assistant coach to RSL head coach Wednesday afternoon, and he’ll be formally introduced at a press conference Thursday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Cassar was an assistant to Kreis for all but one month of Kreis' tenure as Real Salt Lake's coach, and that continuity and his familiarity with the RSL culture were big reasons Cassar was tabbed as Kreis’ replacement.
“Jeff was under a really good head coach. Jeff had a very tight relationship with Jason, and was a very important part of our collective success the last couple of years,” said RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey.
Cassar and former RSL assistant Robin Fraser were the two finalists for the head coaching job, a clear indication ownership wanted to maintain the team-is-the-star mentality Kreis established. The club ultimately believed Cassar was the right man to maintain that culture.
“We’re going to reward success. Any successful organization and any successful culture has to reward success, and when people are loyal and do well for you over a long period of time they’re going to get their shot,” said Lagerwey.
Cassar, a former MLS goalkeeper, becomes the third head coach in RSL’s short history.
“Jeff’s been a crucial member of the RSL family since 2007. His terrific leadership abilities, strong character and understanding of our locker room, tactics and overarching club culture will allow us to continue to compete for trophies in 2014 and beyond,” said RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen in a press release.
During his seven years as RSL’s goalkeepers coach, Cassar was instrumental in helping Nick Rimando elevate himself into a U.S. national team-caliber 'keeper who will likely be on the U.S. World Cup roster next summer.
Over the past seven years Cassar also served as RSL’s top assistant coach, which gives him tremendous insight into the ins and outs of the organization.
“He’s been intimately involved with many aspects of the coaching staff and organization for a while,” said Lagerwey. “He’s been our top minor league scout. He has a tremendous network in terms of kids filtering up through the lower levels. He’s really dialed into the player pipeline and he’s really dialed into our academy, and those are all strengths that will help him and a foundation to build on.”
Cassar's MLS playing career spanned 11 seasons, including two stints with Dallas (1996-97 and 2003-06), one with Miami (1998-2001) and one with the MetroStars (2002). During that time, he made 79 appearances, finishing with 13 shutouts, a 28-36-10 record and a career goals-against average of 1.76.
It was a good career, but by no means a great career. What separated him from others was his work ethic, a big reason why he spent half a season in the English Premier League with Ipswich Town and the Bolton Wanderers. Even though he never made an appearance with a senior EPL squad, Cassar started in seven reserve games.
Real Salt Lake said Cassar won’t make public comments about his hiring until Thursday’s press conference. However, when he joined RSL back in May 2007, he said the family culture in Utah was a big reason he took the job, and that likely hasn’t changed.
"The people are great, and I'm a massive family guy, and this place just oozes family. It oozes being outside and mingling and meeting people. It's not like everyone's in their own hole,” said Cassar back in 2007.
Cassar has big shoes to fill replacing Kreis, who led RSL to six straight playoff appearances from 2008 to 2013. Cassar was his right-hand man throughout it all.
If Cassar is able to maintain and build on that success in 2014 and beyond, the $20,000 tampering fine that RSL paid back in 2007 for hiring Cassar away from FC Dallas will continue to be some of the best money ever spent by the club.
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