So today Real Salt Lake let their head coach Jeff Cassar go after just 3 matches of the 2017 MLS season. I counted myself a silent person among the fan based who questioned bringing him back this year at all, but I wanted to be supportive of one of the nicest guys I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Jeff never had a bad word to say about anyone that I can remember, and I will miss him. He loved this team, the fans and the city and in the age of modern sports he was a rarity, a genuine nice guy.
Now what confuses me is the timing, yes RSL hasn’t won a match yet, yes RSL had only scored one goal in their first 3 matches but if the leash was this short and confidence this low, why in the world did they keep him and not let a new coach come in and make critical choices and have a preseason to build his staff and work on his tactics and roster requests? Now you are 3 matches in, your roster is pretty much locked up and you now need to find a coach who will likely want to change some if not all of his staff. This mid contract, mid season type of change is something we rarely see in MLS and with good reason.
I want you to read this statement from RSL’s GM, closely:
“At the conclusion of last season, we felt that while we were disappointed in the end result, Jeff had done enough to earn another shot to lead the team in the 2017 campaign. We have a high sense of urgency for progress this season, and have made many off-season changes towards that endeavor. So, while these decisions are always difficult, we, as an organization, felt that it was necessary to make the change in our head coaching position now,” Waibel said. “The process for a hiring new head coach to lead the club has already begun. We will work quickly and diligently to ensure that we find the right leader that shares our values, passion, commitment and vision.”
we had enough confidence to resign him, but that only lasted 3 matches? I am sorry this sounds like someone panicked, an owner who has blown the negotiations with Jason and Garth, and now overreacted after ignoring the glaring issues at the end of last season. I don’t get it.
So the RSL season is about to begin so let’s take a quick look at what has transpired between the end of the 2016 season and now, and how much hype those things bring to the 2017 season.
I am going to use a scale of -10 to +10 to rate the major events of the off season and what I believe their impact will be on the 2017 season
- Javier Morales leaves – I doubt we will ever know what really happened at the end of the 2016 season, but clearly the departure of Javier Morales will impact RSL going forward both on and off the field. I took about a week after the 3-1 playoff loss at LA for this one to hit and its about as negative as hype can get, gotta go with a -10 on this one.
- Jeff Cassar staying – RSL fans were up in arms over Javi’s departure and a end of the 2016 season that saw RSL win just 4 of their final 19 matches and no wins in Sept or Oct. So the news in early Nov of Jeff’s contract being extended for 2017 wasn’t exactly received with positive hype, this one gets a -5
- Burrito is gone – Another case that we may never really know what happened but between a nagging injury, issues at home, and who knows what else Juan Manuel Martinez was dealing with but clearly he had checked out by mid season and by the end of the season it was clear things had gone very wrong. His release was a not a surprise but it sure wasn’t what any of us wanted, but clearly what he wanted. His creative abilities on the field will be missed, I give this one a -7 on the Hype Meter. Read more
Wednesday night RSL fans were treated to a very exciting match, but RSL was unable to move forward in the CONCACAF Champions league losing their series with Tigres 3-1 on aggregate, here are some post match comments from Jeff Cassar, Nick Rimando and Tony Beltran (along with some pictures from the match:
Real Salt Lake
Head Coach Jeff Cassar
“Disappointed with exiting the tournament. It’s something that we really wanted to push on and make it back to the finals, but really pleased with the effort that our players put forth. Our staff – there was a lot of energy that went into preparing for Tigres because they’re a fantastic team. But, we’ve got to move on. We’ve got a really important game Sunday against Orlando, and that’s where our focus is going to be now.”
On how he feels being that close to tying the game:
“It’s painful. It’s painful no matter what. I’m a pretty positive guy. I couldn’t be more happy and more excited about what’s ahead for this team. If we have that kind of effort from everyone. We’ve talked about sacrificing for each other, and that’s what I saw tonight was players sacrificing for each other. If we continue to do things like that we’re going to have a successful year. It definitely hurts but we have to put it behind us.”
On Javier Morales PK approach and the stutter step:
“Listen, that goalkeeper is good. He is very good. He is very long, and if he goes down earlier it’s in the goal. Javier is a professional. He’s going to bounce back. It’s a PK. Sometimes you get saved. It is what it is.”
So with CCL in charge media access to RSL practice consisted of 15-20 minutes of watching the guys stretch (across the field from where we were stationed) a 45 minute wait and then a quick interview session with HC Jeff Cassar and Captain Kyle Beckerman (and Joao Plata if you knew Spanish).
What did come out is that there is a bug making it’s way thru the RSL locker room, 3 players missed practice today due to it and all of them were starters in the first leg and likely starters in the second; Javier Morales, Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez and Demar Phillips. Coach Cassar said he believes all 3 would be probable for Wednesday’s match but one never knows. On the upside Luke Mulholland was a full participant in practice today so he may be a player that could make the 18 man roster.
Should those 3 players not be able to go one would have to expect some easy subs for Burrito, by bringing in Olmes Garica who has had a good preseason, for Demar Phillips you bring in Chris Wingert, but Javi’s shoes are very hard to fill, do you bring in Jordan Allen who is training to be that backup but is fairly new to the position? Do you bring in Luke and put either him, Kyle or Sunny at the point of the attack? You could bring in John Stertzer and push Kyle or Sunny forward to be the playmaker?
I wouldn’t want to be Jeff if any of those three are unable to go, but hopefully each will get some fluids and be back in action on Wednesday.
I will post my prematch thoughts tomorrow morning.
That’s How I See It
Every coach and player will always tell you they are playing for the win, and they are but then you have reality that sometimes says “The better team, the in form team, the deeper team wins most often” and reality is right. On Wednesday night RSL had to play a perfect match to get a win in Monterrey against Tigres and they were far from perfect, so there was no win. That doesn’t mean everything was wrong, or went wrong, there were both positives and negatives that the team can use to improve itself as the series moves to the second leg and their MLS season approaches. Recovering from a 0-2 deficit will not be easy against a quality Tigres side, neither MLS team that played their first leg at home were able to get a win vs their Liga MX opponent as both LA and Seattle ended with draws in their matches.
First a few of the positives that I saw on Wednesday, Sunny Obayan playing in his first real match for RSL looked like he both understood what was being asked of him and was able to work well with the other midfielders. That is a huge step for a player who had only a couple weeks of preseason with the team, and could be a real positive as the season moves forward. While he was playing a largely defensive role for RSL on Wednesday, during the preseason we have seen his work on the offensive side of the ball as well. In the match he attempted 24 passes, connecting on 22 of them for a 92% success rate according to the CONCACAF site, MLS had him completing 20 and missing on 4, still a great number for his first match.
So for the last couple of years we have heard folks talking about MLS 3.0, the era of big TV deals, new forms of Allocation money, and even more big name DPs. RSL’s owner has talked about it as a part of the reason why some of the front office changes over the last couple of years have been made, so RSL can compete in this new MLS, despite being a small market team.
Last year we saw RSL attract Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez, a move that saw him pay off his own contract so he could find a new team to play with, and he chose to come to Salt Lake City. We saw the potential of what he can do in his limited minutes at the end of the season last year, I expect the best is yet to come. It was a sign of things to come, or so it appears.
Listening to Yura talk to the media today, he mentioned over and over again that he had told his agent that he wanted to come back to MLS, and back to RSL for the last two years. Now a player having a very specific place he wants to play can really put both his current club and his target in a rough spot as deals are never easy to complete. Between transfer fees, salary, MLS salary cap issues, it is a complicated thing but Yura’s agent Patrick McCabe (@GlobalPremMgmt) and RSL GM Criag Waibel did a lot of work over the last couple of months to make this deal happen.