SANDY — Real Salt Lake staged its first home match of the MLS season Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium, and the stars were definitely out.
We're not talking about tabloid stars like (ho-hum) Los Angeles midfielder David Beckham, who appeared cold but cool, if you get the difference. We're not even talking about Jimmer Fredette, who sat in the luxury suites, only to learn he isn't the only one in Utah who can find the net.
We're referencing perhaps Salt Lake's happiest man, RSL coach Jason Kreis. His team is 2-0 in league play, undefeated at home in 36 consecutive games, and the first MLS team to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. Plus, he just signed a new contract, which assures job security through 2013. Also, the team announced this week it will retire his number.
On Saturday, RSL dominated the first 45 minutes and beyond in a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Does life get any better for anyone not named Jimmer?
"I've been receiving a lot of text messages and phone calls," Kreis said, "but at the end of it all, I'll take the game. I'll take the result, I'll take the 45 minutes of watching my team play unbelievably well."
At the moment, he even takes the cake. All he needs is a movie deal to complete the picture. Don't laugh, it might happen. This guy is driven to succeed. Just ask him a question after a losing match, or even a winning one. He's as focused as a guard dog. He answers most questions in a tight, staccato delivery. No time for joking; he has games to win. That part came along nicely on Saturday despite the absence of Alvaro Saborio, Will Johnson and Arturo Alvarez, who were playing with their national teams — as was L.A.'s Landon Donovan.
You have to hand it to RSL, it knows opportunity when it knocks. The Jazz's playoff hopes are as dead as last week's road kill. The Ute basketball hasn't been a factor for two years. BYU's run through the NCAA Tournament ended Thursday in New Orleans, despite the efforts of Fredette.
That left the door wide open for RSL to grab some springtime attention, which it sometimes lacks. Just last week it announced — to the horror of soccer purists — that it would retire Kreis's number. While owner Dave Checketts and general manager Garth Lagerway were quick to declare the matter a triumph, Kreis modestly called the move "a bit much."
But he didn't complain about the contract extension that will take him though the 2013 season, nor should he. His coaching has taken RSL to an MLS Cup victory in 2009 and his team hasn't lost at home since July 2009. He is RSL's first player and scored its first goal. Now he's the first to be enshrined.
Even so, his number retirement — set for this summer — has drawn considerable ire. Purists say soccer numbers are more closely related to positions than players. Hence, retiring a specific number is like retiring a position. How about retiring some of the Euro-attitude? As RSL general manager Garth Lagerway pointed out: "We live in America."
Real opened the game by obliterating L.A. in the first half, scoring in the 2nd, 10th and 41st minutes. The Galaxy didn't get on the scoreboard until the 80th minute, when the score was 4-zip. The sold-out crowd roared its approval.
"The crowd was so, so loud before kickoff," said Kreis, "it was like a magical moment."
Thus the biggest star in the house wasn't Beckham or Fredette, but Kreis. It was a night which, for him, couldn't have gone better. OK, maybe a balmy 60 degrees wouldn't have hurt. But cold temperatures had no effect, either on Real or the crowd. RSL was ahead 1-0 before the fireworks had faded. By the time halftime rolled around, everyone in the house knew it was indeed a special moment.
One in which even Kreis could relax.