Jason Kreis has led Real Salt Lake to the third-best record in MLS over the past four-plus seasons. (Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)
MLS expansion club New York City FC hopes to take the field in 2015 with Jason Kreis as head coach, SI.com has learned.
Kreis, 40, has managed Real Salt Lake since 2007 and is in the final year of his contract. NYCFC extended an offer this week, according to a source with knowledge of the club’s intentions. A second source would not confirm there was an offer but did say that NYCFC received permission to speak to Kreis, who traveled to the U.K. this month in order to meet with NYCFC and Manchester City leadership.
RSL has every intention of keeping its charismatic manager. Owner Dell Loy Hansen, a real estate and property management executive, is a billionaire and a Utah native who won’t give up one of the country’s most successful young coaches without a fight. RSL allowed Kreis to talk with NYCFC, in part, because it believes it can re-sign him.
Kreis was not made available for comment. RSL VP of Media & Communications Trey Fitz-Gerald told SI.com, “We are aware of inquiries made as to the future availability of head coach Jason Kreis. He is obviously an attractive candidate. Our ongoing conversations with him regarding his long-term future continue to be positive and productive.”
An NYCFC spokesperson told SI.com, “No decision has been made about the head coach position.”
NYCFC, a joint venture between Manchester City and the New York Yankees, remains a relatively bare-bones operation 18 months from its first game. Former U.S. national team captain, MCFC midfielder and U.S. Soccer Federation youth technical director Claudio Reyna has been on the job as director of football operations since May. Two weeks ago, the club appointed former Rutgers University athletic director Tim Pernetti as chief business officer.
Although owned by an English club that is in turn held by a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, NYCFC intends to retain an American flavor. That starts with Reyna and Pernetti and may carry through to Kreis, a Nebraska native who attended Duke University and starred for FC Dallas and RSL before transitioning abruptly into coaching.
The father of two adolescent boys faces a difficult decision. He’s been in Utah since 2005, and, along with general manager and senior VP of soccer operations Garth Lagerwey, has built a veritable small-market dynasty. RSL won an MLS Cup championship in 2009, was a goal away from claiming the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League crown and has advanced to this year’s U.S. Open Cup final. Along with two additional MLS Cup semifinal berths, Kreis has compiled the league's third-best regular season record over the past four-plus seasons.
In addition, the club has gained a reputation for developing young talent and for playing a brand of smart, stylish soccer that stands apart from the MLS crowd. RSL is effective and fun to watch, and Kreis has received much of the credit.
That’s important to Reyna, who wrote during a June Facebook chat with fans, “Our goal is to put a team on the field that plays exciting and entertaining soccer. We want to win and win with style.”
He also promised, “Rest assured we WILL use our three Designated Player slots.”
RSL currently employs two DPs (Álvaro Saborío and Javier Morales), neither of whom make more than $500,000. NYCFC’s spending power surely will add to the head coaching job’s allure -- especially for someone like Kreis, who’s had to work for years with a more modest budget.
The expansion team’s visibility and global connections, not to mention the Big Apple’s glamor, also likely will entice a manager who harbors plenty of ambition underneath his genuine team-first humility. Kreis has said that he would love to coach in a World Cup some day, but that he’s got plenty more to learn in the interim. NYCFC’s resources and profile might open more doors than a few extra years in Salt Lake.
But Kreis also has plenty of reasons to stay. He is the main man at Rio Tinto Stadium, where he has a great relationship with Lagerwey (his former Duke teammate) and a level of control and influence he might risk by moving to New York. Reyna surely isn’t just a figurehead and Manchester City owner Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan likely will want some say in how his money is spent.
Kreis also has a first-rate infrastructure in place in Utah, where RSL enjoys playing before robust crowds at its five-year-old facility. A strong youth system is up and running. It has produced three first-team players and a U.S. Soccer Development Academy championship this year.
At this point, NYCFC officially is homeless and faces a season or several in a temporary stadium while trying to secure a permanent one somewhere in the five boroughs. It doesn't have its own office. There isn't even a logo.
Meanwhile, Kreis has come to symbolize RSL. He is synonymous with the club.
“Our coaching staff and our technical staff put this team together and we feel very connected to them,” he said shortly after Salt Lake made its stirring run to the 2011 CCL finals. “This is our family and for the foreseeable future, I can’t see leaving our family.”
At that time, however, he couldn’t have foreseen NYCFC.