It's been quite the week for RSL, hasn't it?
First, a trip to Kansas City for MLS Cup, where the team stood toe-to-toe with the Eastern Conference champions at their house in polar conditions for 120 minutes, only to end up going down by the slimmest of margins. About the time the team got home, we hear the words we knew were coming someday but hoped they wouldn't: Our revered head coach, Jason Kreis, is moving on to the next phase of his career in the bright lights of the Big Apple. On top of that, assistant coach C.J. Brown is heading back to Chicago where he is a living legend among Fire faithful. Yes, it's been a trying week for our RSL Family.
But in spite of all that's gone on lately, I have to tell you that I still feel very positive about the future of Real Salt Lake. Just like the final result of MLS Cup somewhat masks what was honestly a very impressive performance by RSL, the news of Jason Kreis' departure somewhat masks the fact that there are still a lot of positives for the organization moving forward. Now I don't want to downplay the importance of Jason Kreis or what a great coach he is; he inspired me personally and professionally and I will miss him more than I can write. But in spite of the loss of such a key figure, there are still many reasons to believe this club will be successful in 2014 and beyond.
- The technical staff, including the General Manager, is still here. Garth Lagerwey, widely regarded as one of the best GM's in MLS, was a significant force in the transformation of RSL into one of the league's elite and keeping it there. One of the reasons Salt Lake surprised everyone this year is the crop of new players performed much better than the historical average. Pretty much every healthy first-year player contributed in a significant way, and that is almost unheard of in MLS where you can expect a sizable percentage of new players to not pan out. That's a reflection of the hard work done by the technical staff, President Bill Manning, the General Manager, and Head Scout Andy Williams.
- The team is young, deep, unified, and should return largely intact. Thanks to all the contract work done last offseason, RSL is in a great position from a salary perspective, meaning there won't be a need to offload core players like last year. That doesn't mean all 30 will be back - that's not realistic - but it does mean that next year's team will largely resemble this year's team. With the young guys one year older and vets like Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, and Alvaro Saborio chasing spots on World Cup rosters, I expect RSL 2014 to be as good – or even better – than RSL 2013. Regardless of who takes over the vacant coaching roles, this team figures to make a lot of noise next year.
- The front office has placed a lot of weight in making sure the new coaching staff preserves the culture that has made RSL so successful. You've heard the sayings: Fantastically together. RSL Family. Fortune favors the bold. Believe. These aren't just flowery statements; they are mottos the club has lived by and used to turn this small-market wonder into a national soccer power. Whoever the new coach is, the expectation will be that the club continues to operate with the same culture that has been the source of the team's success. In other words, I expect the "feel" of RSL going forward will be more similar to the feel of the last few years than different.
No doubt it's been a tough week as we've mourned the loss of MLS Cup as well as our beloved coach, but looking forward to 2014 and beyond, I see plenty of bright days ahead.