SALT LAKE CITY — Audentis Fortuna Juvat. Fortune favors the bold.
The famous phrase from Virgil’s Aenied is printed in metallic lettering outside the Real Salt Lake locker room at Rio Tinto Stadium. They are said to be the words of Pliny the Elder as he left Pompei to rescue those in the path of the eruption of Vesuvius. They are repeated often in the military.
But for RSL coach Jason Kreis, these words are more than a motto or a battle cry: They represent a lifestyle and a way of doing things.
Little about Kreis’s soccer career has been about doing things the conventional way. As a player, the tenacious striker wouldn’t settle with following what others were doing, and as a result eventually ended up as the first forward in MLS to eclipse the 100-goal plateau.
Even his move to the coaching ranks was unconventional. He retired as a player in the middle of the 2007 season to take over the helm with no previous coaching experience.
“Even though I had just stepped in as a coach with zero coaching experience, I had a lot of playing experience,” Kreis explained, "and so I had a lot of professional experience. And I had a lot of success.”
The Omaha native felt like the credentials he had outweighed everything that was missing from his coaching resume, despite what the critics felt at the time.
“I wasn’t just an average player,” he said. “I had some pretty above average statistics to back up what I had done in my career. I had enough experience to know what I thought was right. So to me it didn’t really matter what everyone else thought was right.”
[inline_node:320141]Kreis’s RSL team has a penchant for being bold, getting into the attack as quickly as possible and pushing for the win even when conventional wisdom would suggest a draw is fine.
“We do our homework,” Kreis said. “We research all those things, but at the end of the day we’re going to make a decision based on what we think is best for this group even if that flies in the face of what everyone else has done throughout recorded history.”
One example of this came before the season even started. At the time, all of the other teams in the league were interested in getting started with preseason as soon as the league would allow, and maximize the amount of time that they were together before the league’s First Kick. However, because they had played in MLS Cup—and thus were one of the last two teams playing in November—and because they knew they would have at least six extra games of Champions League play. Kreis chose to shorten the club’s preseason to a short six weeks.
Many questioned this decision when the team got off initially to a slow start, but the results eventually came around.
Kreis doesn’t make these decisions in a cavalier fashion. And he has second thoughts.
“Yeah, [about] all of them,” he said. “I think about them non-stop. Even though I made the decision, I keep thinking ‘Have I made the right one? Do I have time to change my mind?’ That’s just part and parcel with my mind.”
In recent weeks, Kreis has made some bold choices during the team’s busiest stretch of the season—14 games in 56 days. He coached very aggressively against Cruz Azul in Mexico City, where many teams might choose a more cautious approach. He recently selected a lineup of mostly reserves for a home match against the Colorado Rapids in order to prepare for a CCL match. The tactic worked as the team earned draws in both matches, both maintaining their place in the MLS standings and clinching a spot in the quarterfinals of the CCL.
Kreis clearly isn’t doing all of this on his own. He credits his coaching staff, all of whom are recent MLS alumni. And he reserves a special nod for the man who made the bold decision to name Kreis as coach: RSL owner Dave Checketts.
“From the day that he had me up to his house [to offer him the coaching position], he made it very plain for me: ‘We’re gonna give you all the support we can give you,’” Kreis said. “We’re going to give you all the support that you need, and then at the end you’re going to be expected to win.’”
So far, Kreis has fulfilled those expectations. Boldly.