Jason Kreis: 'Orlando Checked Every Single Box'
August 19, 2016
ONE OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT MOVES this summer in Major League Soccer did not involve a player but rather a coach. Earlier this month, after Orlando City SC fired head coach Adrian Heath, the front office signed Jason Kreis to lead the team.
Kreis, 43, is one of the most highly regarded American coaches in the game. He led Real Salt Lake from 2007-2013 and built it into a perennial MLS contender, winning MLS Cup in 2009 and making the playoffs in every subsequent year under his watch. In 2011 Kreis and RSL nearly won the CONCACAF Champions League but came up short against Monterrey in the second leg of the finals.
After the 2013 season Kreis left Real Salt Lake to take the top job with New York City FC, which would have its inaugural season in 2015. It proved to be a horrible fit as the Manchester City-run club did not make the playoffs in its first season and Kreis was fired. He recently expressed bewilderment and disappointment in the club's total lack of patience for an expansion team.
Kreis had a limited role with U.S. Soccer during the first half of this year but most figured—correctly—that he would find his way back into MLS.
Unlike most teams that make a coaching change, Orlando City is not tanking. Yes it had a brutal stretch from April through July, but as of now the Lions are within one point of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Kreis will have a lot of say in Orlando City moving forward including player acquisitions and working with the USL and academy teams. He has top young talent on this roster, including Tommy Redding and Cyle Larin, and the club's brand-new soccer-specific stadium will debut in 2017.
American Soccer Now spoke with Kreis about what led him to Orlando, what he learned from his time with NYCFC, and where he sees Orlando moving in the future.
Brian Sciaretta for ASN: What made you decide to take the Orlando job?
Jason Kreis: In the time I had off, I put together some real clear ideas about what I would be looking for in my next club. Orlando checked every single box that I was looking for. It wasn't really a club that I was thinking about because I knew they had a manager in the position and I was pretty sure they were quite happy with him. He was with them for a long time. So I didn't really see it becoming available. But it did represent a club I was extremely interested in. When it opened up, things moved very quickly.
ASN: What were some of those specific boxes you were looking for in a new club?
Kreis: First and foremost, it was important to me what the ownership structure was like and how simple the decision-making could be. Both of those were very, very good things. Second is to think about the match environment—and the crowd here is fantastic. How relevant is the club is in the community? There is no doubt that it is extremely important. It is an important thing in the community of Orlando. People recognize what it is all about. The new stadium coming on board next year with grass—a soccer-specific stadium. That is something that I was looking for. And a club that has a full USL team as well as an academy. Orlando has both of those things up and running so it was a good opportunity to align ourselves with the second team and with the academy to provide a linear pathway of development for young players.
ASN: Orlando City has a very good chance at making the playoffs. Even if the deadline has passed to add new players, what do you think this team can achieve this season and what do you want to accomplish in the short term?
Kreis: The goal for this season is to work with the players that we have and to see which players fit in the way we want to play and which will not. Also from a character point of view, which players are going to show that they really want to be here and which do not—so we can make very good decisions in the offseason about building this team and building this club and positioning this club for sustained success.
ASN: What was your role in U.S. Soccer the first half of 2016 and what did you get out of that experience?
Kreis: It was terrific. But I want to be clear because there has been a little bit of confusion as to what my role was. I was only an assistant coach for U.S. Soccer for a month in January camp—three weeks of training and two friendlies matches against Iceland and Canada. That experience was fantastic. It was great to get back on the field again quickly to be doing tome training sessions and working with the players. That was a really good experience for me and to be an assistant coach because I've never been one.
The second part of working with U.S. Soccer was strictly a scouting role. That scouting role took me through the Copa America. That was a good experience for me as well because I learned some things about me in the scouting role in how to present that to a team and how to value that position.
ASN: There are a lot of ways to build an MLS team. You see teams like FC Dallas building with a strong emphasis on its academy. Then you have some teams that make big pushes through big-time designated players. What kind of approach do you see Orlando City taking and is there enough talent in the Orlando area to build with local talent?
Kreis: Ideally, we would like to do all of it. Ideally we would like to go out and get designated players for their playing ability and not their name—and get really, really good players so we're paying a good value for what we receive from the players. From a development standpoint, we want to develop our own players as well. I think that this club is well positioned to push forward on all fronts. Orlando is an attractive enough market where we should be able to attract big players here.
As far as what he youth market look like, I can tell you that it is a little too early for me to say. I haven't yet had the chance to see what the academy is doing. They're just starting their season as well.
ASN: What did you take from the NYCFC experience? Did you grow from it and learn about yourself even if it did not end well?
Kreis: 100%. I learned a lot of things about myself and I learned a lot of things about club structure. I learned a lot of things about dealing with high-profile players. I learned many things through that experience and I am thankful for it. Even though it was extremely painful at times and very, very painful in the end, I look back on it now and say it was a positive experience for me.
ASN: Why do foreign managers struggle in MLS? You spent some time overseas at Manchester City before the NYCFC debut season and yet most foreign coaches struggle with the exception of foreigners like Oscar Pareja who have been here a long time. What is the benefit to being an American coach in this league and what makes it tough on a complete outsider?
Kreis: It's all about the salary cap. For me it's very simple. In order for a team to have success for a sustained amount of time, you cannot just go out and sign the best players. You also have to develop young players. You have to develop all the players you have and you have to use all the resources that you have. It’s the teams that do that on both fronts that I think have sustained success in our league. I think that’s a very difficult thing for foreign managers to grasp because they’ve never operated in a salary cap world. The solution in Europe is that when you have a bad team, you just go out and buy new players. You just can’t do that with any kind of sustainability in MLS.