KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Compared to his normal attire, Jason Kreis looked relaxed. The Real Salt Lake coach wore a black crew-necked sweater, button-down shirt and camouflage pants.
Normally he arrives at a press conference dressed like a Burberry model. But because he had just deplaned in preparation for Saturday’s MLS Cup final, and because the team had chosen camouflage and black as its travel-day theme, he had a different look — in more ways than one. He looked like a man at peace. That’s not hard when all your decisions are golden.
On one hand, he can stay with Real Salt Lake until the cows come home. Considering his team plays home matches in citified Sandy, that's a long time. On the other hand, he can become the coach of New York City FC shortly after Saturday’s MLS Cup final concludes.
By most indications, his choice will be the latter. He is one of soccer’s most attractive coaching options, having four conference finals, two league finals and one championship to his credit. Kreis is young enough, talented enough, intense enough and driven enough to go beyond Salt Lake soccer.
He’s also coach of the biggest overachievers this side of “Hoosiers.”
So naturally someone had to ask at RSL’s press conference on Thursday about his job status. The question was whether he would approach Saturday’s game “a little differently” since it might be his last for Salt Lake.
After a momentary pause, Kreis deadpanned, “I was going to ask you what you were talking about."
Instead, he noted that when RSL played its final home match against Chivas USA, “I thought there was a possibility that that might be the last match that I ever coached for Real Salt Lake.” Ditto for playoff matches against Los Angeles and Portland.
“And then we go into this match and, yes, it might be the last match that I get to coach this group, and I will soak it up for sure, every single moment.”
The possibility of losing Kreis has been looming since he coached Real to an MLS Cup in 2009. For a team he expected to finish .500 this year, it was “absolutely, no doubt in my mind, the most special year I’ve ever been a part of.”
How much more special can it get coaching Real Salt Lake?
There’s no arguing it was a brilliant season for Kreis who, with a foundation of veterans Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers and Kyle Beckerman — plus 11 new faces — totaled the fourth-most points in the league.
RSL didn’t rebuild, it reclaimed.
Yet few would expect the 40-year-old coach to finish his career in Salt Lake. Some people are lifers but for others, Utah is just a pleasant whistle-stop.
Odds are heavy that Kreis is as gone as pizza at a sleepover.
Kreis and owner Dell Loy Hansen greeted one another with a brief hug at Friday’s crackling cold training session at Sporting Park. But a month ago Hansen seemed almost resigned his coach was leaving
“We’ve got a really, really good Plan B,” Hansen said.
That’s nice, because Plan A is looking doubtful.
Not only did Real fail to sign him to a contract extension last off-season, but Kreis finished just third in voting for Coach of the Year.
Had he been coaching in New York, he might have finished first.
It’s tempting to picture Real convincing him to stay in Utah. Hansen called his contract offer “a very, very big number” on an ExtraTime Radio broadcast, adding that “we’re crossing our fingers that we’re the prettiest girl in the red sports car.”
Still, that’s a tough proposition when New York is the other girl, with a fancier car.
Kreis mentioned in passing this week that in foreign soccer leagues there are stadiums with heated fields and even heated seats. That’s probably beyond RSL’s reach. So are New York FC’s ownership ties to Manchester City FC and the New York Yankees.
Kreis has been mentioned for months with the New York club and even interviewed with Manchester’s management. Now he has just one more day of aggravating questions. Then, he says, he can decide.
Unlike American football coaches such as Urban Meyer and Gary Andersen, Kreis hasn't once said he’ll stay in Utah.
So aside from six straight playoff appearances, two MLS Cup finals and a U.S. Open Cup finals appearance, he has given Salt Lake fans at least one more gift: an absence of false hope.
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