HERRIMAN — Jason Kreis accomplished a lot of firsts with Real Salt Lake.
The forward was the first player the expansion franchise acquired — in a trade with the Dallas Burn — for its inaugural season (2005). He became the first team captain, scored the first goal in franchise history in a 3-1 loss to the LA Galaxy back in April 2005 and notched the first hat trick. He also coached the club to its first championship in 2009.
Not surprisingly, Kreis was the first — and only — player to have his jersey retired by RSL.
He's also the first former player-coach to return to Salt Lake City as the head coach of a U.S. national team. While that is a bit more random of a fact than the aforementioned ones, Kreis' recent hiring as the U-23 national team coach did give media a chance to catch up with a person who's meant a lot to the local soccer community. He was in town this past week to run a camp held at Zions Bank Real Academy's training facility.
On his impressions of the new practice facility:
"Incredible. Really incredible. To look around and see all these fantastic fields and this building behind us and the mini stadium for the Monarchs, it’s just an incredible investment Dell Loy (Hansen) has made for the club and for the community. I think that there’s just so much to be proud of here. It’s nice that they’ve welcomed us in and we’re enjoying it."
On whether he has pride when seeing the facilities he helped build, in a sense:
"I guess so. I feel like I was a big part of the beginning of this club, being the first player that was signed there and then coaching the team for a few years. So, yeah, a little bit. We were at the stadium last night (Tuesday) and that brought about a lot of feelings. It was different to be watching a game from the stands. That was a rare occurrence for me, but I enjoyed it."
On RSL products Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera, Brooks Lennon and Sebastian Saucedo being on the U-23 first team:
"Players who are born in '97 or later are in the 23 pool. All those players are really top considerations for us. We had a camp in Spain in March that was thrown together last minute (after he was hired). We asked for those four (RSL) players and we asked for a bunch of players, and we got a bunch of 'nos.' So it was nice — really, really nice — and again extremely supportive of Real Salt Lake to allow us to have those players in this camp, because I think there’s a good chance that those four players and some of the others that are here will be big players for us as we move forward and attempt to qualify for the Olympics."
On coming back to Utah since leaving to coach in New York:
"I’ve come back a handful of times since I left in 2013. We have friends here. I remarked on it a lot (in the past). I’m the type of guy that says what I mean and mean what I say. I love this place. I did love it and I still do. Every time I come here I have great feelings. I’m not sure how you can’t enjoy yourself when you have that kind of backdrop behind you (Wasatch mountains)."
On what he remembers about the 2009 championship team, including a couple of guys who are still playing in Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando:
"Just a lot of special memories — a lot of really, really special memories. Of course the wins were fantastic. Of course the run, leading up to the playoffs, the run of form that we were in to make the playoffs, and then our run through the playoffs. There’s not much else that’s better than looking out at your team and saying to yourself, 'that’s the exact picture I had in my mind for a long time,' and we were saying that. I remember that year. It was a special time. More so than any of the results or holding up the trophy, just all of those times with those players and with the people that were involved. The culture in that team was second to none."
On whether there's extra pressure on the younger U.S. teams in light of the country missing the most recent World Cup and Olympics:
"There is an extra sense of urgency, but I wouldn’t say it feels like pressure. I think it feels like a new direction and a real sense of organization and a real sense of identity on who we want to be as national teams and how we want to play in the national team program. I think that’s been really, really nice for me to be a part of and to be part of the direction and understanding of what that looks like. I think as a coach it’s nice to come into a situation and have the identity and culture defined for you, and then you just have to carry it out. I’ve enjoyed it for the first several months that I’ve been a part of this and the first two camps. This camp has been absolutely spectacular with the attitude and camaraderie and the spirit of the group. I think things look good going forward."
On the difference of coaching a U-23 national team compared to an MLS club:
"There’s lots of differences. My last three jobs have been about establishing what that culture looks like and so you’re really starting from a culture point of view rather than a tactical point of view. These things take a lot of time. And to be a part of those decisions, it’s good in its way as well. I think those things are really extremely important. To come into the national team program in March, that stuff’s been clearly defined, so now it’s about applying those principles and applying that culture and trying to make it right within your camps. It’s taken some of the burden off. The other thing that’s really nice about working with national team players is they all come into it with the same mentality from the point of view that everybody has the same opportunity to earn minutes and to play and show you what they can do. When you’re in a club environment, it can be a little different. There could be a handful of players that aren’t too happy with you as a coach and aren’t seeing things the same way and maybe don’t give you the same effort and attitude and intensity that they should every day. That's been really nice not having to worry about that every day."
On focusing on the culture and identity compared to the tactical aspect:
"I’m just enjoying it altogether. I believe 100 percent in the culture piece that’s being established here. I believe 100 percent in the way we’re going about the methodology of teaching the group and coaching the group. It’s just enjoyable to be a part of that and it’s just enjoyable to be coaching. I’ve been out for a few months. There’s always some level of questioning when you’re out for that long whether this is really the job for you, but when I get back onto the field I know pretty quickly that this is what I love to do."
On how much of his current coaching was influenced by his time with RSL:
"A ton. The system looks different, some of the movements look different and some of what we’re asking from the details look a little different, but from an overall soccer perspective what I want to see from the players and what I want to see from a tactical system and how we move the ball is the same."
On keeping in touch with old RSL friends:
"Kyle and Nick, for sure. We text every now and again, and then (Javier) Morales works for Inter Miami, my second job, and so we see each other every day. It’s been really interesting and fun for me to be involved in the education of him as a coach, and I think he’s going to be an incredible one."
On whether he still has a place in Utah:Comment on this story
"I do not. It’s a big sense of sorrow, actually. Both my wife and I remark on that so often that we wish we would have kept our last house here. As the years have gone on and some of the situations we’ve been in, it would have been really nice to come back here in between jobs."
On Rimando announcing his retirement:
"My reaction most of all is pride — pride and having a pretty good piece of his successes. I also think he’s made a really good decision about when he’s going out and what he’s gotten out of his career. I'm a huge, huge fan of Nick's both in the way he plays, but more important in who he is. I think it’s been an honor to have gotten to work with him and to be a part of his special career."