SANDY, Utah — It’s no secret that Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts wanted to emulate the essence, success and culture of Spanish mega-club Real Madrid.
It may be a bit more surprising to learn, though, that head coach Jason Kreis said his team has a similar style of play to a certain World Cup finalist.
“The team we are most like is Spain,” Kreis said.
Kreis admitted some of his favorite teams in the tournament are Spain, Brazil and Argentina. However, he doesn't think his team is built like the South American sides.
“Do we have individuals that can break players down like that?” he asked rhetorically following a recent practice. “I don’t think so.”
That posed an interesting question as to how this team of reigning champs was actually built. Was it the system that came first, or was the system built around the players Kreis has at his disposal?
The coach said this is a difficult question to answer, and the answer depends on the circumstances.
"Jose Mourinho is going to go to Real Madrid and he’s going to buy players to play in the way that he wants to play," Kreis said. "Obviously in the MLS, it’s not that easy, and I’m the kind of coach that probably would prefer to have the players dictate what style of play we’ll play.”
That’s what happened when Kreis took over the reins in 2007. He inherited a team that needed, and eventually received, a complete overhaul.
“We looked at the group after the first season and said, 'How do we get the best out of the most players,' and then developed a style around them," he said. "Now, moving forward, we have established a way we want to play in that we can bring in players to fill in roles within a system that’s pretty solidly established now.”
Kreis indicated that the key to determining this system were the players in the midfield.
“Honestly in that first season, the decision to play that diamond in the midfield was brought about because we had Nathan Sturgis, Carey Talley, Dema Kovalenko, Kyle Beckerman – there we had four guys that a lot of coaches would look at and say these are center midfielders, that these are probably holding midfielders.”
The style that evolved was one different than much of the rest of the league.
“I would read some of the articles at the beginning of the season about how all the flank players have gone," he said. "Well, do you need to play with flank players? I think there is more than one way to play the game.”
Midfielder Javier Morales, who played for UD Vecindario in Spain’s second division before joining Real Salt Lake, agrees with this assessment of the style of play that his team incorporates.
“Most teams play like that in Spain, but here in this league I’ve never seen another team play the way we try to play.”
Morales has proven to be a key piece for RSL being successful with their “Spanish” style of play. His flair and creativity help the team in their possession-oriented game. When asked if he played the role of Iniesta or Xavi for RSL, the Argentine midfielder smiled.
“I am Morales,” he said.