Damir Kreilach is in his fourth season with Real Salt Lake. Throughout his time with the club, he has received accolades for his play on the field, his leadership in the locker room and his uncanny demeanor in welcoming fans into the RSL Family through his work in the community and his ongoing appreciation for the special bond between players and their fans.
Whether those plaudits came for his incredible goal against LAFC in the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs or his two Real Salt Lake MVP awards – as selected by his teammates – he has accepted the praise with a rare humility, crediting his teammates, his coaches, support staff, fans … anyone who in his eyes contributes to the on-field success of the team.
So, it came as no surprise that when Kreilach was named to the 2021 MLS All-Star team, it was with the same humility he has displayed throughout his career.
“At the end of the day, without my teammates I wouldn’t be named to the All-Star team,” he said. “For myself, I am proud. It’s an honor and I’m very happy to participate and represent RSL in a way that RSL deserves.”
For his part, Kreilach leads the team with seven goals and is second with five assists through 15 matches this season. Since coming to Real Salt Lake in 2018, he has been a consistent scoring threat, whether as a midfielder or when he was called upon to play forward. With an improved strike force this year with the additions of Rubio Rubin and Bobby Wood, Kreilach has played in the midfield where his duel-winning and chance creation supplement his propensity to get into the attack and score goals.
With that combination, even at 32 years old he is enjoying the best season in his four seasons with RSL and, according to his own evaluation, the best performance in his professional career.
“Honestly, I’ve played the best year so far in my career,” he said. “Just because of that, my age doesn’t mean a lot to me. You can be young, you can be old. But as long as you put effort in for every session, if you prepare yourself and put 100% in for every game, that’s how I want to live and enjoy the most beautiful game in the world.”
On the All-Star team, he will join the likes of Carlos Vela, Chicharito, Diego Rossi and Raul Ruidiaz – players who came to Major League Soccer with much more fanfare than his humble arrival in 2018. That he was named to that group by LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley, who selected 13 of the 28 players on the roster as the coach of All-Star team this year, was an extra honor for Kreilach.
“It’s a huge respect from Bob Bradley. It means a lot. All of the effort that the team put and that I put in my career as a professional,” he said. “It’s a huge honor to be there with the best players in MLS and to play against the best players in LigaMX … it’s big time. I know I’m 32 but I can still learn from those guys. They are stars that have played in the biggest clubs in the world.”
When he takes the field on August 25 at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles, he will not only be representing himself and Real Salt Lake, but also the fans that make Rio Tinto Stadium special to Kreilach and his teammates.
In his four years with RSL, the fans have endeared themselves to the Croatian midfielder as much as he has to them. Whether it was at Rijeka in Croatia or Union Berlin in Germany, that special connection has persisted for Kreilach and he has continued that connection with RSL. It helped convince him to sign a contract extension last season and continues to encourage him to want to spend as much time with the club as he can.
“The fans are one of the biggest parts of the RSL organization. They get our backs in the good and bad times and we as players appreciate that. It means a lot to us. We want fans to be able to be proud of us,” he said. “If I can continue to play well, I will play as long as I can run. I enjoy playing soccer. I enjoy being part of the RSL organization.”
Even with all of his individual success and RSL’s place in the Western Conference standings, Kreilach was surprised by his selection.
With three weeks before he takes the field against the LigaMX All-Stars, Kreilach has time for his selection to sink in. For now, he is relishing the moment while continuing to help RSL ready for a busy week with road matches against the LA Galaxy on Wednesday and Portland Timbers on Saturday.
In time, his selection will sink in, but for now, he is happy enjoying the attention to himself and Real Salt Lake.
“I can’t believe I was named,” Kreilach said. “Maybe I will believe it when I join the group in Los Angeles. To be with those players is such a great reward.”