So far there hasn't been much for analysis on Real Salt Lake's shake up today. As mentioned before, John Ellinger has stepped down as head coach of RSL. He isn't leaving Utah though, staying with the organization as technical director. As Dave Checketts said today, "he [John Ellinger] has a tremendous eye for talent, in our draft, in our trades, in the things that he has done." I'll take a look at that statement another day.
Checketts announced that Jason Kreis will be the new head coach of the team. He is not an interim coach and has signed a multi-year deal. One would presume this means that Real Salt Lake is committed to him and believes in him. But will he be able to do enough to shake the team up and get them into the play-offs? If so, can he do it this year?
Rarely in life are there silver bullets. Kreis is not going to be one of them. He has no previous coaching experience, especially at the level of Major League Soccer (MLS). Kreis came into the season focused on learning a new position with Ellinger playing him in a 4-5-1 as a holding midfielder alongside Carey Talley. And if things played out as they say they did in the news conference, it wasn't until Tuesday evening that he first thought about being a head coach in the MLS for the 2007 season. Even taking into account that he's been with the franchise since day one, Kreis will need some time to find his legs and sort out a vision for type of players he needs to get the team winning.
Kreis does have some things going for him. Expectations as a whole are low. I'm not saying this to be flippant. Other than a nice run of form during the last half of 2006, the team has stunk. Most of the die-hard fans were long ago fed up with John Ellinger and wanted him out. Any new coach at RSL was bound to be excused for some mistakes for awhile simply because to the fans at least it's not Ellinger. Kreis is also a fan favorite. This should help him buy the time he needs to shape the team and start to learn the coaching ropes.
It will not be easy for Kreis to turn things around, especially this year. Beside being new to the job, 5 of the next 7 of RSL's games are on the road. Their next game is a home against an New York Red Bull's that has yet to give up a goal. If they don't win that game it's tough seeing them win any their next 4 on the road (CO, FCD, Chicago, NE). It's conceivable that the team won't get it's first win until mid-June or even not until July when they host Toronto FC at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
If they go into the all-star break with only 1 or 2 wins and a few ties, it may be a blessing in disguise. One of the mistakes that Real Salt Lake made was in not making this decision in the summer. It would have given the new coach, whomever that may have been (note: Checketts make a comment in the news conference that sounded as though he had spoken with other teams about bringing to RSL a current coach of theirs), time to start changing the squad to fit their vision. As it is now, Kreis has Ellinger's squad and such a low standing should give him the leeway to really shake things up including trading fan favorites like Ballouchy or Williams or casting off players like Brown or Tejada. Kreis' retirement alone will free up enough cap space to bring in a new face or two.
Kreis has a lot of work ahead of him. In the off-season Real Salt Lake didn't do much to improve their squad. Bringing in Freddy Adu played to what they were already strong at, attacking. What they didn't do was strengthen their defense or add some bite to their midfield. To compound their problems the 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1 has not worked well for them. I would expect Kreis to switch them to a 4-4-2 with Harris playing alongside Cunningham to give him better support. This will also take pressure off of Adu and Klein to get forward to help Cunningham and allow them to offer their backs. There also may be some other minor changes such as Lancos replacing Stewart in the backline. Beyond that it will depend on who what they're willing to give up in trades or what foreign players they can bring in. Unless I'm overlooking a trade in which they were given away, they have 2 Senior International (SI) slots open and they still have to use their Designated Player (DP) slot. But in reality if RSL plans on keeping Adu around next year, they will need that DP slot to keep him. And they don't have any allocations left which impact what they can offer in trades and any help they need in salary, transfer fees or players that don't qualify as a discovery player.
Kreis has a lot of challenges facing him right now. It's hard to see how he will have much success in the short run. But if the franchise is as patient with him as they were with John Ellinger he should have the time to show if he's capable of being a good coach.
If you'd like to listen to the press conference, AYL soccer has it here.