Real Salt Lake Head Coach Freddy Juarez spent the entire offseason analyzing and re-analyzing the successes and failures of his first season at the helm for RSL in 2020. Agonizing over film and discussions with coaches and players, he left no stone unturned in righting the ship after what he describes as a disappointing season.
With an entirely new coaching staff in support of him, he has a revitalized approach to the 2021 season and just one week into preseason training camp the internal changes have been palpable.
It starts with his own approach to training, but is further emphasized with the additions Pablo Mastroeni, Matt Taylor and Ignacio “Nacho” Hernandez to the coaching office.
“I’m always learning. I’m not finished learning. There definitely are some elements of managing players and communicating that can always get better. Whether that’s tactics or the role of a player or the simplest of conversations with a player, you have to make sure it’s clear and concise with everybody and there aren’t gray areas,” Juarez said of his lessons learned in his first full season. “Second is to institute positive vibes. When I look at my staff, because of everything we’ve experienced – all of the ups and downs – we need positive vibes. We always have to keep our sights on what we are trying to do and not lose sight of that if there is a loss. That’s coming in working every day and giving it our all, continuing the role of positivity, working hard, respecting each other, unity. With that in place, you keep focus on the long-term goals.”
A fresh set of eyes has provided Juarez with new ways to approach each session to keep things fresh and to move towards the end goal of winning championships.
In Mastroeni he has a veteran both on and off the field. A two-time World Cup player and MLS Best XI winning MLS Cup champion on the field, he also led the Colorado Rapids to a club-best record as Head Coach in 2016, finishing second in the MLS Coach of the Year voting.
With his experience on both sides of the sideline comes a level of respect from the players in the messages he delivers. Aside from his credentials, he also brings a holistic approach to coaching that changes the tenor of the training sessions from the moment players enter the Zions Bank Training Center.
“If you’re in the room with Pablo, it’s a different vibe. It’s a positive vibe. And that’s huge,” Juarez said. “He was a great soccer player and he knows the game. The way he communicates with players, he puts them at ease.”
If Mastroeni is a morning cup of coffee, then Hernandez is a blast of intravenous caffeine. The unapologetically gregarious goalkeeper coach worked with Juarez at the RSL Academy and also has winning experience in the MLS Cup with the LA Galaxy and Concacaf Gold Cup with the U.S. National Team.
That success is the perfect juxtaposition to his daily words of affirmation in bringing life to a training session before it’s even begun.
“Nacho quickly has a relationship with a lot of the guys because of the academy. He is like a father-figure to the guys,” Juarez said. “You see more guys coming into the office because they want to say hi to Nacho. It sets the standard for the beginning of the day.”
The recent addition of Taylor adds another dynamic as he remains close enough to his playing days to still have the spry nature of a player while sprinkling in the experience of coaching at UCLA, where he helped Milan Iloski explode to a 17-goal season as a junior. After finishing at the bottom of the Western Conference scoring table in 2020, Taylor brings a goalscorer’s mindset to the coaching sessions that pairs well with the on-field acquisitions of the likes of Rubio Rubin and Anderson Julio to bolster the attack.
The coaching trio is working closely with Juarez to rejuvenate the team heading into the new season. It is often meticulous, sometimes productively contentious, frequently jovial, but always geared towards building in a positive direction.
“If you focus on the process and the everyday work, it becomes an environment that you want to be involved in every day,” Juarez said. “Then winning becomes a byproduct.”