SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake co-owner Dave Checketts announced Thursday that the No. 9 jersey of head coach and former RSL forward Jason Kreis was set to be retired this summer, but the news didn’t come without some controversy.
Some critics accused the club of retiring Kreis’ jersey too soon, after just 58 appearances in less than full three seasons with RSL, while purists were unforgiving of the idea of retiring the soccer-sacred No. 9 jersey.
RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey fired back on both counts on Friday, beginning with the claims that Kreis hadn’t earned his stripes as an RSL player.
“I don’t get that, man. I don’t get the controversy,” Lagerwey said. “I get that Jason may not have played 500 games for RSL wearing No. 9, but man, look at his career body of work. His playing career alone speaks for itself. Why our franchise wouldn’t want to be associated with Jason the player is just baffling to me.”
[inline_node:318077]Lagerwey (at right) also said he doesn’t believe that No. 9 is a sacred number like it has been in the past. No longer are players lined up by position and then assigned numbers accordingly.
Instead, it’s the combination of the number and the name on the back of the jersey that brings the significance.
“I think it’s a 25-year-old argument that’s not terribly relevant in the modern day,” he said. “We want kids to grow up saying that, 'I want to be like Javier Morales. I want to be like Alvaro Saborio. I want to be like Kyle Beckerman, and whatever number they are wearing, that’s the number I want to be.'”
“We live in America. We play in an American soccer league,” Lagerwey added. “We have playoffs. We don’t have relegation. We retire numbers. I can’t imagine anything less controversial. America is a great place. I like living in the United States. I don’t need to live in Europe. I’m not envious of the Europeans.”
Still, the move couldn’t escape criticism from soccer bloggers, who took to the Internet almost immediately after the news broke.
Kreis himself was humble about the honor, calling the gesture “a little much.”
“I think it’s a tremendous show from Dave [Checketts] and a great, great thing,” Kreis added, “but I just don’t know whether I really deserve something like that.”