82014_isi_kreisjason_mlsmj110313109 Michael Janosz/isiphotos.com
ASN Exclusive

Jason Kreis Calls His NYCFC Job "Absolutely Fantastic"

How is Jason Kreis adjusting to life with Manchester City's ownership team? Just fine, thank you very much. Brian Sciaretta caught up with the former RSL coach in this wide-ranging interview.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
August 20, 2014
12:32 PM
NEW YORK CITY FC'S first match is still seven months away and the expansion team only has a handful of players on the books. But the club's high-profile signings of international stars David Villa and Frank Lampard provide clear indication that the MLS expansion club has big plans.

NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis, 41, is one of the architects working on those plans. From 2007-2013, Kreis built Real Salt Lake into an elite MLS team—without the benefit of deep-pocketed owners. Now, he will attempt to do the same with in the nation’s largest city who are owned by the same group as Manchester City.

American Soccer Now's Brian Sciaretta spoke with the Omaha native on the job he is doing ahead of the team’s inaugural season, the team’s goals, and its relationship with Manchester City.

AMERICAN SOCCER NOW: It's still early but how are you feeling about the six players you have acquired so far?

JASON KREIS: Obviously we’re very happy with the players we have acquired so far but feeling happy and content about that situation will only go so far. We know we have six players but we know we have to come up with 18 more. That’s a massive, massive challenge in front of us. Certainly a bulk of that will come through the expansion draft. There’s not a whole lot we can do before then but we need to do our best in the international market and do our best in the college market and do our best in the USL/NASL market so that we’re not going to be completely reliant on picking up the best 12th to 15th player from every other team in MLS. We don’t feel that will be good enough for us.

ASN: What does your day-to-day job entail right now with NYCFC trying to assemble a team for next season?

KREIS: It involves a lot of things actually. The easiest way to say it right now is that I feel that I’m a full-time scout/technical director for the team. I live in Connecticut and come down to the office every day, where I can be around our director of player recruitment, Miles Joseph, and Claudio [Reyna] so we can have lots of discussions about players. There are a lot of different pools that we are trying to swim in to find talent for our team. It can be a little bit daunting. We need to be in a place where we can talk about these situations every single day.

We’ve had a lot of contact with other MLS teams and as you can see we’ve entered into the trade market already. We’ll look to continue to do things through the trade deadline which is in the middle of September. We will, of course, be looking to do some trades in and around expansion. It’s an all-encompassing scout/technical director/negotiator with other MLS teams.

ASN: The signings of David Villa and Frank Lampard brought worldwide attention to NYCFC and MLS. But we’ve seen some major acquisitions in MLS succeed while others fail. How involved were you in acquiring these players, and how confident are you that they will live up to their huge expectations?

KREIS: I think the first thing everybody is going to think of when they see names like Villa and Lampard is the tremendous pedigrees each have, and the histories each have in their soccer careers, and the abilities they have and what they do on the field. In reality, that was only a portion of our decision and a portion of our research was based on what those guys could give us on the field. That’s really the easy job to say, 'Yeah, Villa and Lampard—those names we know and the quality they bring on the field will be tremendous. It should likely put them in the very upper echelons of players in our league from day one.’

The more interesting area and the area we spent more of our time was to figure out the character of the players and the motivation for why they want to come. It would be my strong opinion that the designated players, certainly the big designated players, who haven’t done well in our league comes down to character and motivation. It’s been really refreshing and nice to be part of a club that certainly wants to make big signings and do big things in this league but has a very strong appreciation for character of player and the character of people they want involved in their club.

ASN: The New York market is known for being very demanding. Fans want winners and high-profile teams. The Red Bulls/Metrostars struggled from day one and it took them years to recover. How important do you think it is for NYCFC to be strong in 2015? Can the team be competitive in its debut season?

KREIS: I have to believe what people tell me about this area. I’m not from here. So it’s difficult for me to say exactly what New Yorkers want. Although I believe sports fans in every city are the same in that they want and expect their teams to win. I understand there is pressure to do that and they believe that we can do that, especially when you’ve made signings like Lampard and Villa to start the whole thing off.

I think you need to put yourself in a pretty good place to be competitive. Put out the mentality that you want to win things in your very first year. We’ll continue to make decisions to put ourselves in the very best position to do that.

I also think that there is a very club-centric philosophy here that we need to win the right way. I don’t believe that we’re going to sacrifice a playing style in order to get results. Certainly there is lots of history of teams in our league that have done and have had their successes, but we believe that those successes are too short lived. So we’ll take a longer view of it and hopefully put a product out there that New York City soccer fans and people from this area can be proud of and are attracted to. At the end of the day, we believe we can marry both. We can marry an attractive style with winning consistently in our league.

ASN: What do you mean by 'an attractive style'?

KREIS: I think the easy answer is to turn on the television and watch Manchester City. It’s a team that takes risks. It’s a team that is aggressive in their style. It’s a team that wants to score a lot of goals. It’s a team that high presses and is possession oriented and wants to dictate the tempo of the game. Those are all the things I was attempting to do at RSL. Whether or not I was successful is something for other people to judge. I think it is a huge part of why I was afforded the opportunity to be the first head coach here.

ASN: I know you spent the first half of this year in England with Manchester City coaches, staff, and front office members. What was that experience like and what did you learn? Also what was their perception of American soccer and MLS?

KREIS: That’s a big question with a lot of separate answers.

My experience was second to none. It was absolutely fantastic to be in an atmosphere—part of a soccer culture—where the game I’ve been a part of my entire life is appreciated to the utmost level. That was just a fantastic social experience for myself and my family as well because they see someone who has committed his entire life to doing a job that maybe isn’t often appreciated as we would all like it in our country.

To be around the soccer minds there, the obvious soccer minds that everyone thinks of like [Manchester City first team head coach] Manuel Pellegrini and his coaching staff, and [Manchester City reserve team head coach] Patrick Vieira and his coaching staff are the obvious ones. But there are a lot of soccer minds there that people have no idea about. (These people) behind the sort of methodology and philosophy of City Football Group. So to spend time and rub shoulders with those sorts of people is fantastic as well. Personally, and from a family standpoint, the experience was a once in a lifetime opportunity and a big part of why I decided there was no sort of way I could turn this opportunity down.

As far as their impression of us, I think we still have a lot of work to do. You can look at that in two ways. You can look at it and say, 'Oh, those English. They don’t have any appreciation for us. They have no knowledge of what we’re doing. They don’t have any respect for us.' Or you can look at it the other way and say, 'We have a lot of work to do to gain that respect and earn that respect.' I believe in that sentiment. I believe that respect is something that is not just given to you—it is something that you have to earn. I think we’ve certainly made great strides over the past 17-18 years that we’ve been doing this as a league and however long we’ve been doing it as a national team. I think we’re making strides but I think we still have a long way to go. We should embrace that challenge and wake up every day trying to better ourselves, better our teams, better the league, and better our national team.

ASN: Do you expect you will be working with that side of the Atlantic with Manchester City much while you are coaching this team or do you think you and NYCFC will have autonomy?

KREIS: I think it's sort of the best of both worlds, to be honest with you, because these are very soccer knowledgeable people. They understand they need to give this group enough autonomy to do our own thing and to have our own team that can be considered a New York City team. They don’t expect us to be Manchester City over here. They understand that’s not the way we need to do it in order to be successful in our league. There’s the [sense] that, 'Hey, we understand you’re the head coach in MLS. So we want to give you the room to do things the best way you can in order to win. But we’re here with all these resources we can offer you because you’re part of us.'

ASN: MLS has started emphasizing the importance of U.S. national team players. Kansas City has achieved success with two of these players and Seattle has become one of the top teams in the league after acquiring Clint Dempsey. Does NYCFC have the goal of getting a U.S. national team player as a cornerstone of the team?

KREIS: Kansas City didn’t bring full national team players to Kansas City. They developed full national team players. I think there are two avenues there. There is the Seattle way of going out and grabbing Clint Dempsey and bringing him back. Then there is the Kansas City way of developing national team players. At RSL, I would arguably say we developed national team players as well because Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando weren’t just national team players when brought into the group. I would tell you I believe from both my personal chair and from Claudio’s chair and from a club philosophy point of view that we recognize this is an American league. We absolutely want to do our best to get into the market for top American talent. We also want to do our absolute best to develop players both for New York City and for the U.S. national team. We would love to be able to do both.

Whether or not we will be able to do that, I could not say. We aren’t going to enter the market and say, 'We absolutely have to have a U.S.. national team player here” because I think that’s where you get yourself into some trouble—where you maybe get a player that doesn’t fit your system. Or maybe you get a player that character-wise isn’t right for your group. It will not be our ultimate motivation because honestly I think our jobs are a little bit different than that and we are required to do things that are different than just being solely focused on developing national team players or bringing in the top U.S. players. But it is certainly an issue that both of us find important and would love to be able to do for this club and for this league and for our national team.

ASN: We see the first team coming together but how important will youth and academy teams be to NYCFC? How much of a presence do you want to have in developing players in the New York City area for your club?

KREIS: That one we feel very, very strongly about. We already have a plan in place to get an academy started as quickly as possible. We already have eight affiliate clubs around the New York City area that will feed into that academy. We have a long-term plan there. We have a short-term plan and we believe that it is absolutely vital for MLS teams going forward to get involved in the youth marketplace and to develop your own players that can be part of your club for a long time going forward. As I touched on earlier, if the side product of that is that we’re creating U.S. youth national team players and full U.S. national team players, then that is an excellent thing as well. It’s very high on our list and something we’re going to be very focused on doing an excellent job at.

ASN: It sounds like a fun and challenging time for you—to be part of his organization in the nation’s biggest city and trying to build from scratch a club with the ambition of having it become a dominant American team. Is it?

KREIS: It is. I think without this type of opportunity I would have stayed in my comfortable place in Salt Lake.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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