As the MLS season enters the homestretch, it's time to start thinking about end-of-season awards. Much of the soccer media has been talking about this pretty much since the beginning, but the discussion is largely academic until the end is in sight. To Real Salt Lake fans, one of the most compelling awards this year is Coach of the Year, given that Jason Kreis is probably among the few in serious consideration. Kreis' resume in 2013 is impressive - top of the league table, U.S. Open Cup finalist, and most goals scored in franchise history, just to name a few. RSL's play this season has many talking about this possibly being the best RSL team ever, despite trading away three All-Stars in the offseason. Clearly, this season has shown Kreis' true ability as a head coach.
But what are his chances of actually winning the coveted award? It's an uphill battle for recognition for coaches in small markets like Salt Lake, but what Kreis has done this year can't be ignored by even the biggest-market pundits. Now, before we can answer the question, let's take a brief look at the other coaches who I think should be finalists for Coach of the Year.
Marco Schallibaum - Montreal Impact
Some foreign coaches have trouble adapting to the nuances of life in MLS and never really get the hang of it. Marco Schallibaum is not one of those coaches. This is Schallibaum's first season in MLS after a long career coaching around Europe, and he has wasted no time making Montreal one of the league's elite teams. A largely-overlooked squad with a largely-overlooked roster, Montreal is now best in the league in points per game (1.71). They will likely finish No. 1 in the Eastern Conference playoff race, while just a year ago they were seventh. Credit goes to Schallibaum for the renaissance of Marco Di Vaio and for getting Montreal playing as a true team.
Oscar Pareja - Colorado Rapids
As lovers of RSL it's hard to admit it when the Rapids do something well, but Oscar Pareja was a great hire. After a seventh-place finish in the Western Conference last year, Pareja gambled big by trading away both his starting strikers Omar Cummings and Conor Casey. What he got was a more balanced team that's now in the thick of the Supporter's Shield race. He's getting out-of-this-world play from his bench (goalkeeper Clint Irwin, anyone?), and had maybe the best 2013 draft class of anyone. What team wouldn't want Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers right now? Like Jason Kreis, Pareja got it done during the offseason and is continuing to do so on the sidelines this regular season.
Caleb Porter - Portland Timbers
Caleb Porter is another rookie MLS coach who has made an immediate and unmistakeably positive difference to his squad. The Timbers were one of the worst teams in MLS in 2012, and just a year later they are one of the best. Porter came in from the college ranks with Akron and immediate pushed Portland into a possession style of play similar to the one Real Salt Lake plays. Ever a student of the game, Porter has become one of the better tacticians in the league, but perhaps his greatest accomplishment to date is getting the locker room to believe. Oh, and the offseason acquisitions of guys like Will Johnson and Diego Valeri weren't too bad either.
So is Jason Kreis going to win Coach of the Year when up against these three? It may come down to hardware. If RSL is able to win the Open Cup, that may vault him into the lead. If he can also win the Supporter's Shield, I would say he is pretty much a lock. Winning two major trophies with so many new faces, and doing it in a year that many thought would see RSL struggle, would be unprecedented and cement Kreis' legacy as one of the best to ever coach in this league.