Former RSL stars return, lose on the field but win with fans

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New York City FC coach Jason Kreis reacts to play during RSL's last match up with NYCFC. Kreis played for RSL in 2005 to 2007. (AP Photo)
New York City FC coach Jason Kreis reacts to play during RSL’s last match up with NYCFC. Kreis played for RSL in 2005 to 2007. (AP Photo)

Jason Kreis is the stereotype for stoic sports coaches who don’t say much. He showed a rare bit of emotion when speaking about Real Salt Lake. “It was definitely odd,” he said┬áKreis, “to be on the other side of the field, to look at the players as opponents and not my players.”

The former head coach of RSL now coaches New York City FC, a team that also fields former RSL defender Chris Wingert and former midfielder Ned Grabavoy, as well as training and assistant coaching staff from Salt Lake. Current RSL head coach Jeff Cassar maintained the focus among the staff and players. “It was business as usual,” he said.

A banner hanging from the south stands in Rio Tinto Stadium during the game against NYCFC epitomized RSL’s approach to handling former players and coaches: “Our Team is the Star.” Some teams like LA Galaxy or even NYCFC draw in big names from overseas, foreign players who want to live in America, and sign them to big massive contracts. RSL has preferred to focus on developing young talent and building a team around many players instead of a single superstar.

After winning the MLS Cup with Real Salt Lake Kreis became the closest thing to a superstar.

The money of a big-market expansion team was enough to lure Kreis away from Utah. Another banner in the south stands read, “Next time you leave, let us keep the number.”

The response from the fans was overwhelmingly positive toward the departed stars, despite that cheeky bit of banter. Wingert was loudly applauded when he was substituted out of the game and, after exchanging shirts with Kyle Beckerman, went to all four corners of the stadium to applaud the fans.

“It was a little bit strange,” Wingert said. “Besides that, it was nice to be back here and see everybody and just get a minute to thank the fans.”

NYCFC still went home as losers on the field, despite the warm welcomes and night out with former players.

Did they enjoy their time back in Salt Lake City? “Obviously I think a terrific crowd again, great atmosphere for a game. I tried to enjoy it as much as I could, and certainly that’s not going to be much when you lose 2-0,” Kreis said.

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