On Wednesday, the Real Salt Lake and Real Monarchs coaching staffs departed for San Diego for a brief retreat to integrate the two staffs and get on the same page before the start of the 2017 season. Before they left, RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar sat down with RSL.com to recap his busy off-season and talk about how the new structure in the organization will benefit the club, his relationship with new Monarchs Head Coach Mike Petke and the club’s fully-integrated philosophy.
How has this off-season differed from previous years for you?
“It’s been interesting. We’ve made some changes to our roster. We’ve made some changes to our staff. With that, it’s never easy, but I think it’s what’s going to move us forward both on and off the field. And I’m really excited. The chemistry here in the back with all the coaches has been fantastic. We’ve all been working extremely hard and working well together. We’re all on the same page and really excited now to make sure that we’re adding the right pieces on the field and in the locker room and then getting out on the field and putting it all together.”
Last year you talked about the self-reflection you went through and the ways you sought to improve as a coach. This year, you did some more of that, particularly with the U.S. Soccer Pro License Coaching Course. What was the motivation behind going to that and what kinds of things were you able to pick up?
“It’s been extremely beneficial. A lot of it was just about being a leader and tackling problems and how to solve them or communicate better. As a young head coach, I’m always looking for things to better myself and ways to be a better communicator and better leader. They are things I think I’m good at, but to excel I need to be great at. I’m only three years into being a head coach and I still have a ton to learn, but it’s exciting.”
What was the day-to-day like at the course and what were you able to pick up from the other coaches there?
“The leadership from (U.S. Soccer National Coach Educator Wim van Zwam) and (U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education Nico Romeijn) was fantastic. Obviously being in the same room with 80-percent of the head coaches in the league and talking about the problems that they have, they’re no different than any problems that we have here. You talk about how you can solve them, what led up to those and how you can try to prepare for those issues not to happen again. It was an honor and a wonderful experience. It was very hard, very intense … at times, mind-wracking … but the purpose is to get you to think outside the box and learn different ways to do things.”
The coaching staff underwent a restructure. How does that affect the day-to-day things, training sessions and games?
“Freddy Juarez has a great soccer mind and when I’m talking soccer with him it’s a great line of communication. Over the last two years we’ve built a very good trust and before that he did a fantastic job with our Academy as well. I like the way he sees the game and I like the way we communicate with each other about how we see things. I think it’s going to be a great benefit to myself, to my staff and ultimately to our players.”
“Ted Eck is going to be taking over the team video analysis and that’s going to be extremely beneficial for our staff and for our players. For our staff because breaking down video is very time-consuming and it’s very important. With Ted being able to take that off our plates, he knows exactly what I want in that department so I think it’s going to be a great transition for him. And it’s going to be great for our staff because then we can spend more time preparing training sessions, preparing for opponents and I think that’s going to be beneficial. On top of that, Ted is someone that our players can go to individually and get the amount of video that they need. That won’t take away from the staff having to do that with the players. I think it’s going to be fantastic.”
With the revamped Monarchs staff with Mike Petke taking over as Head Coach and Mark Briggs coming on as an assistant, what kinds of things do you see them bringing to the club?
“First and foremost, experience. When players can reach out to Mike and Mark – who really knows the USL extremely well being the head coach with the Hammerheads – the experiences they can give to the young players on the Monarchs to then help them transfer to the first team is going to be invaluable. On top of that, Mike has been an extremely successful head coach in MLS. He’s worked with some top, top players in the world and in our league. It’s going to be great. I’ve known Mike since we were 18 years old and we were teammates on youth national teams. When we had this opportunity to bring him in, I was completely on board. Craig and I brought his name to the front of the list and we’re very blessed to have him in our organization now.”
As a technical staff, you guys spent time this off-season building the club philosophy. How difficult has that process been putting all that down in writing?
“It really is a process and it never is a quick one. Two years ago we changed formations, which was big for this club. The formation had been ingrained and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We knew it was going to be a process. We knew it was going to take a little bit of time to get the exact players we wanted to get into the team because it’s never easy to make massive changes. So we had some growing pains two years ago. Last year was a massive step forward and a great learning process for myself, for the staff and for the players. Then in this offseason, we’re not quite under the same roof yet, so it’s always difficult to get everyone together. But Rob Zarkos and Craig were able to create a 10-day period where we were able to get Martin Vasquez and Mike Kraus, all the Monarchs coaches, all of my coaching staff … everyone together in the same room to really start to determine how we can take the next step. Those 10 days were beneficial because we were able to work on all aspects of how we want to play the game and put it out there for the players to see what we’ve been working on. We’ve been working a ton on video and how we want to communicate. Now we are going on a coaches retreat and we are putting what we’ve been working on into how we are going to implement them in preseason and we’re really excited to bring everyone onto the same page so everyone is playing the exact same style of soccer from our 16s all the way through so the transition for our players when they move up the ladder is seamless.”
You’re just a couple of weeks from training camp starting … how does it feel?
“We still have some work to do and this time is important. I want the 23rd to be here tomorrow … but there is still work to do. We’ve still got to complete our roster. We have to get through the college draft. And we still have to do the day-to-day planning that we need to get done and we’re going to tackle that when we go to San Diego for the coaches retreat. But the way we’re communicating and the way we’re working together, I believe that this is going to be a very, very special year for us.”