Real Salt Lake has done one thing better than any other club in Major League Soccer this season. It has played to a draw five times out of eight as of Saturday, April 26 -- but fans need not worry about the club getting its act together.
Sure, that’s 10 points that the dudes sporting the new claret, cobalt and yellow quasars whizzing across their spiffy LifeVantage chests have now squandered -- much like the latest, greatest “pyramid scheme” to have hit the Wasatch Front. Alas, Real Salt Lake is not some mystery juice from an exotic fruit that somebody would like to sell you in mass quantities.
New head coach Jeff Cassar is the opposite of Jason Kreis who was a snarling, intense pit bull glaring fireballs into the backs of his players’ corneas if they muffed up their first touch. Kreis also rammed Latin phrases down their throats as they tip-toed around Rio Tinto and gave clipped phrases as journalists looked for higher meanings in those phrases.
Cassar does not want to coach at Manchester City, er New York City FC, and drive a Bentley. He is who we thought he was at his first press conference in which he openly wept about being the new RSL sheriff and hit the “show feelings” button that Kreis would have never hit.
Cassar was open, grateful and choked up about 120,000 times in 10 minutes after opening act and club owner Dell Loy Hansen went on and on like Howdy Doody at this dog-and-pony show for adult journos. Kreis would have done any of that over his dead body.
No, Cassar is like your first youth league coach who got talked into teaching a bunch of motley kids -- and is now giving two-thirds of those punks who talk crap behind his back a lift to every game in his minivan.
A few players kind of, sort of throw him under the bus without realizing it -- Ned Grabavoy immediately comes to mind. As each game wears on, you sense that if and when this team loses, somebody will lose their mind and say something -- maybe Grabavoy himself -- about how things are really going. Nat Borchers is beginning to look like a lumberjack who works all day and at the rate the team is playing he may never shave.
Even so and under the gun from somewhat crusty vets, Cassar gushes on and on and on about their amazing abilities and acts more like a clinical psychologist conducting independent research studies on an investigational medication to treat late-game malaise.
He’s nice, and he’s kind yet he is unbeaten through eight games. He is as low key as any professional coach that has ever stepped foot on a playing surface. And the best part is, he really, truly cares about his team. His love for his team is showing; every time they step foot on Rio Tinto Stadium soil it’s a party and his players look to impress him and the fans who paid good money to see the show.
“Every time we’re at home, we want to start off right and really get the fans into the game. I thought the first half – there was so much energy inside the stadium, and the fans were a huge part of that,” Cassar said Saturday of RSL’s 2-goal outburst in the first nine minutes.
Sure, Real Salt Lake is giving up three points at the death of games -- and it did on Saturday -- but so did Kreis for an extended period of time. Here are five reasons Real Salt Lake fans should chill out about all the draws their team has been earning and give the man time to sort it all out. It all starts with the words coming out of Cassar’s mouth.
Cassar has fixed defensive woes on set plays
“The last [stoppage-time goals] were set plays – I thought our defending set plays was better tonight. That’s a good question. It’s something we’re going to have to look at, and just be more cognizant of recognizing danger. I think we could’ve closed this game out relatively easily, but we made it hard on ourselves by giving the ball away.”
Cassar knows turnovers are a problem
“I honestly don’t think it was anything they were doing – I think it was all what we were doing. When guys are making runs forward and turning the ball over, now we’re out of shape. It’s something that can’t happen.”
Cassar knows the second half is an issue
“I think it was the choices that we made on the ball. We had a two-goal lead, and we really needed to take care of the ball. I thought we gave it away a little too cheaply. We also got a little bit out of shape – giving up the ball away in poor areas, guys in different spots and not spots to defend properly. We’ll learn from it.”
Cassar is aware Joao Plata is on fire right now
“Joao [Plata] is a sparkplug. Whether he comes off the bench or starts the game, he puts the fear in defenders. I thought he did a great job tonight. I took him out a bit early, because he’s coming off of a hamstring injury, and I didn’t want to put him in a position where he’d possibly re-injure himself.”
Cassar will correct the team’s late game woes
“I think it starts with video, talking about it and showing the players what could’ve been done – what choice could possibly be made. Obviously, the staff has to look at themselves, and I’ve got to look at what I could’ve done better, first and foremost, to help the guys. Going over video, keep stressing it, putting them in situations in practice where they have to defend a lead.”