SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake looked basically the same for most of the last three seasons. Sure, there was a player or two that came or went, but the core group that brought the team an MLS Cup in 2009 and also advanced to the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League finals was still the nucleus striving for MLS success. But with serious salary cap issues approaching, RSL knew some changes were going to have to be made at the end of the season.
Here is how coach Jason Kreis looked back on the season that was and where RSL is heading.
MLSsoccer.com: How much was the idea that this season was last hurrah at winning a Cup or moving on in CONCACAF discussed this season?
Kreis: I think maybe we talked about it perhaps a bit too much. We may have made it a little bit too public looking back on it. We knew if we didn't succeed on some level – if we didn't win in the playoffs or if we didn't move on in CONCACAF, that we were going to be really under it when it came to the salary cap.
I think maybe it was talked about too much and perhaps put just a little too much pressure – added a little bit more than it should have and maybe the players stressed a little bit about it and that could have had them pressing to try to reach the goals.
MLSsoccer.com: Looking back, when was the moment you realized the potential this group had?
Kreis: I don't know if there was ever an exact moment, but I think it was about the middle of the 2009 season. I was watching them train and even playing during some friendlies that it hit me that we really had the potential. I thought at that time that we were at least onto something, that we were headed in the right direction.
MLSsoccer.com: How hard is it to move on? How hard is it to see players like Will Johnson, Jámison Olave and Fabián Espíndola leave?
Kreis: One thing about having a core group of guys around for a while is you grow close – to really, really care about them – and it is tough to see them go. You care about them as people and not just as soccer players.
MLSsoccer.com: What are the plans for replacing the key guys that have moved on?
Kreis: I think we just have a little bit of retooling to do. We did lose some guys, but we have a strong core that has been together for a while and still have many of them coming back. The good news is we get to keep a lot of the core together still. With those guys returning, now we are looking to find two or three or four guys that can step up and fill a role.
MLSsoccer.com: Which of the younger players are you expecting to step up and take on a bigger role next year?
Kreis: [I expect] every single one of them that has been with us a year or two. They all need to move up. From someone like Enzo Martinez, who now needs to step up and get some minutes with the first team, to Lalo Fernandez, who we expect to see vast improvement from. We need a player like [Sebastian] Velasquez to come and contribute the whole season, not just at the beginning or the end, and we need Luis Gil to make that jump from being a role player to special player. One or two need to step forward and establish themselves as an important part of this team.
MLSsoccer.com: What is the key move left for this club during the offseason?
Kreis: I think obviously we need some forwards. ... We will look at the draft first, there are few that can come in their first year [and contribute]. ... We will try to find the guy with the most potential.
MLSsoccer.com: The salary cap obviously was an issue with the moves made so far. How have you helped yourselves in that regard?
Kreis: I think we need to continue, even respect, what has been successful for us. One of the things I think brought us the success was we continued with a level of consistency. I don't mean consistency with every match, but over a long stretch. Over the past four seasons, we had a consistency that allowed us to get to where we are.
MLSsoccer.com: How key are the players you were able to keep?
Kreis: It is the spine and core of the team, the base of it all. When we had to make a decision, it boiled down to who are the absolute core guys that can hold us together and we can fit in some pieces to keep us at a high level. The guys we kept are so important to what we have done and what we want to do.
MLSsoccer.com: How is the progress going on re-signing Morales?
Kreis: I'm not going to comment on something ongoing like that.
MLSsoccer.com: How much did you grow as a coach this season?
Kreis: Dealing with difficult times and difficult situations was really hard for me. I think I am dealing with them better and better. This season there were just a crazy number of crazy things it seemed from suspensions to national team call-ups to injuries. This year it seemed to be increased, and I think that I am learning still how to deal with things when they come up.