Jason Kreis – a Modern American Archetype

MLS legend carving a unique history in growing league

Kreis_player_pointing (620x350)

Photo Credit: 
Kent Horner / Major League Soccer

There’s no one
quite like Jason Kreis in the modern history of American soccer. Take that
statement as both evidence of trails blazed by Kreis the player, and those he
currently blazes in his continued evolution as a successful young American
coach on the rise.  Jason Kreis, by
virtue of his past, his present and his potential future, embodies the best the
sport in this country has to offer.

There’s no
hyperbole there.  Kreis’ resume as a
player speaks for itself and includes a litany of accolades, “firsts” and
superlatives.  An MLS original, Kreis
parlayed his status as a fifth round pick by the Dallas Burn in the first-ever
MLS draft – after a successful college career at Duke – into a 12-year MLS career  boasting over 300 league appearances and more
than 100 MLS goals. After hanging up his goal-scoring boots, by virtue of his
success at the helm of Real Salt Lake in the last four years, Kreis has become
one most promising young MLS coaches – American or otherwise – the league has
ever seen.

Before MLS
academies, US Soccer initiatives or residency programs, Kreis proved an
American player developed through the scholastic path that is such an
entrenched part of sports in the United States could succeed on the club level
among accomplished foreign players brought in to fill rosters and bolster
league credibility. Not a holdover American star from the 1994 or 1998 World
Cup teams or a Yank “coming home” after playing abroad, Kreis operated on a
different plane, but to brilliant effect. Kreis represented a necessary new
archetype, the American player with purely American pedigree excelling as the
best player in an American league. Such a thing coming to pass was hardly a
given in the early years of Major League Soccer.

Kreis was Major
League soccer’s first American MVP in 1999, when he became the first player to
record a 15 goal, 15 assist campaign. He retired as the league’s all-time
leading scorer in 2007, after becoming the first player in MLS history to break
the 100-goal barrier. Kreis’ accomplishments weren’t footnotes or curiosities,
they were the pinnacle of what a player could achieve at his position. MLS has
evolved, even in the four years since his retirement, but Kreis will always
have a reserved place among the best to ever play here. His background – shared
by handful of American-born and bred stars through the years – only makes his
status that much more impressive.

However, it is
his transition to a role on the sidelines that might ultimately be Kreis’
greatest legacy as an American in soccer. 
American players have made their mark on MLS (though only rarely to
Kreis’ level) and the number of those doing so will continue to grow.  American coaches, however, especially ones
who excelled as players as well as managers, are almost non-existent in the
annals of the American game.  Names like
Arena, Bradley, Gansler, Schmid, etc., float about as American coaching titans,
but the American MLS head coach of the future will look more like Jason Kreis
than it will Bruce Arena.  Carrying the
invaluable experience of playing in the unique American soccer league with him
to the bench, Kreis has shown himself to be a quick study, perhaps giving other
clubs the push they need to take a chance on a young ex-player.  Kreis will undoubtedly be looked to as the
trendsetter as the phenomenon becomes ever more prevalent.  D.C. United’s Ben Olsen didn’t get his job
because Jason Kreis is good at his, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

Jason Kreis was
34-years-old and very green when RSL handed him the controls in 2007. He had
never been a coach on any level, having for all intents and purposes come
directly from taking off his uniform for the last time to setting his feet in
the coach’s box. Since then, he has racked up an incredible collection of
achievements in a very short period of time, each one of them stunning in their
own right.  In conjunction with GM Garth
Lagerwey, Kreis has turned RSL in an MLS model franchise, achieving success on
the field, building a community of support in the process and proving that
winning doesn’t necessarily depend on splashy signings or deep pockets.

Kreis has
already won an MLS Cup, fell just two points shy of a Supporters Shield, and
taken his team to the brink of a continental championship. The style of play he
has instilled in Real Salt Lake has won him admirers in both North America and
beyond.  At the tender of age of 38, he
is regularly mentioned as a candidate for USMNT head coach. His team philosophy
– again, aided by the efforts of Garth Lagerwey and a coaching staff made up
entirely of ex-MLS players Jeff Cassar, Miles Joseph and C.J. Brown – has given
a young RSL franchise (less than a decade old) a very distinct character. Real
Salt Lake’s “The Team is the Star” mantra is not just locker room rhetoric;
under Kreis’ stewardship, the club has obtained a public aura only a few MLS
teams have ever garnered. Such a rapid rise speaks to Kreis’ talent, but also
to his vision. Great coaches are more than tactics and substitutions. They
instill confidence by their presence, hold the team together in light of
setbacks, and reflect their successes onto their clubs.

Kreis isn’t
“original” in the trite way that term is too often used. But he is unique, with
his combined biography as an MLS great with a lasting legacy as a trailblazing
American star, and now as a budding coach in a league that needs many more like
him. His example is two-fold, crucial to American soccer’s development, and
almost impossible to overstate.

Jason Kreis hasn’t
always been the flashiest of successes, so it’s sometimes easy to think of him
only as ex-player and very good coach. He is certainly more than that. As his
coaching career moves forward, at least that part of his influence should be
simple to recognize. Let’s not forget where the path he’s on began, or how it
turned serendipitously to meet places where American soccer needed him most.