Lagerwey and Kreis also played together for three seasons at Duke and two seasons with the minor-league Raleigh Flyers and New Orleans Storm. The upshot of all this is that the three of them formed a friendship that would serve them well once their playing careers ended.
Kreis and Cassar were best friends and roommates during their playing days — “He stood up in my wedding,” says Cassar — and they and their families remain close. “We used to talk about what we would do when we were done playing,” says Cassar. “That was already in the works when we were players. We remember staying up late and talking about how we would do things our way and what we had learned positively and negatively from all the coaches we had had. We were going to coach the way soccer players would want to be treated.”
Cassar retired as a player after the 2006 season and was hired by Dallas to coach goalkeepers, but it was a short-lived job. Days after Kreis retired as a player during the 2007 season to become the RSL head coach, he called Cassar to hire him as an assistant coach — not just a keeper coach, but a full-fledged field assistant. The call actually violated league rules because Kreis hadn’t asked permission from Dallas to discuss the hire. Kreis had to give up an RSL draft pick to bring his friend to Salt Lake City.
“There are rules you have to follow,” says Cassar. “We were both new to our positions. I had a job with Dallas, and they wanted compensation for losing me.”
The reunion was completed four months later when Kreis recommended his old teammate, Lagerwey, for the GM position to owner Dave Checketts.
The trio of Kreis, Cassar and Lagerwey helped RSL qualify for the playoffs six straight seasons, which included two appearances in the MLS championship finals and one MLS championship. Last December, Kreis accepted the head coaching job with the expansion New York City FC. Not surprisingly, he invited Cassar to come with him.
“There were definitely talks about that,” says Cassar. “It was something if things didn’t work out with RSL.”
Given RSL’s success, there was good reason to maintain the status quo by finding Kreis’s replacement in-house. During the interviewing process, Cassar presented a plan that would retain as many of the team’s core players as possible to ease the transition and build on the relationships he had already developed as an assistant.
“I feel very lucky to be working with a friend,” says Lagerwey. “We go pretty far back, and I’m very comfortable with him. Everyone has always liked Jeff. He’s held a lot of leadership positions, and he’s a guy others turned to for guidance and wanted to emulate his performance and work ethic.”
So there it is, two former goalkeepers — and longtime friends — will lead RSL, one from the sideline and one from the front office.
“Having a goalkeeper as a coach is more common in other countries — it’s not like a white tiger — but it is a first in our league,” says Lagerwey, who notes that RSL has established a coaching staff along the NFL model, with coaches for each position — goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards.
“You would think there would be more (goalkeepers) as head coaches,” says Cassar. “Maybe if I’m successful there will be."
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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