Kreis, Real one step from 'long-term' plan

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

MLS Features Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Jason Kreis ended his storied MLS career early in the 2007 season, and traded his jersey for a suit at Real Salt Lake, where he immediately made radical changes as part of his "long-term plans."

Kreis retired as the all-time leading scorer in MLS, so his credentials as a player were obvious, but when he became the youngest active coach in MLS, it raised a lot of doubt about whether struggling Real made the right choice.

RSL was winless in its first 11 matches that season, leading to the switch to Kreis four matches into the streak. He immediately waved the white flag, trading 2006 goal-scoring leader Jeff Cunningham - who led MLS in goals this year with FC Dallas - and four-time All-Star Chris Klein.

Obviously, Real wasn't winning with that veteran duo, so it couldn't get much worse without them. Kreis was focused on the bigger picture, and the dream of winning the MLS Cup final.

Jason Kreis retired as the all-time leading scorer in MLS.
Kreis started stockpiling young talent - some that is long gone and some that remains as the nucleus of this season's squad - including Robbie Findley, who led the club with 12 goals this season.

In the time since those initial moves, RSL's roster has continued to evolve under Kreis, and goalkeepers Nick Rimando and Chris Seitz and midfielder Andy Williams are the lone holdovers from the pre-Kreis era.

Kreis continually added more talent through trades - including Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson, Clint Mathis, Yura Movsisyan and Chris Wingert - and explored in South America to find playmaking midfielder Javier Morales in Argentina.

Real advanced to the playoffs last season, and lost in the Western Conference final, getting a taste of the playoffs that accelerated the learning curve in Kreis' plans.

On Saturday, Kreis - who continued to tinker with the roster this year - took another leap forward toward his long-term goal, although he likely didn't envision the Eastern Conference championship as the path to the team's first MLS Cup final.

Real, which sneaked into the playoffs as the unofficial eighth seed, defeated the defending MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew in the opening round. RSL won at home 1-0 in the first game and finished off the series with a 3-2 win at Crew Stadium, a rarity for a squad that was 2-11-2 on the road during the regular season.

RSL followed up that win by defeating the Chicago Fire on the road last week, breaking a 0-0 draw by winning on penalty kicks, 5-4, when Rimando made three saves to lead his boss to the MLS Cup final for the first time as a player or coach.

"After 11 years playing and three years coaching, it's my first opportunity," said Kreis, who has been a player or coach in MLS since the league started in 1996. "I feel awesome, I feel fantastic.

"It's truly a special night, a special moment for this club and for everyone involved."

Kreis was definitely more "involved" than anyone, and deserves credit for all Real has accomplished since he accepted a daunting challenge to turn around a club that only knew how to lose.

RSL had just 15 wins in two-plus seasons in the league before Kreis took the reins, and has won 27 combined regular-season matches under the new boss and made two straight trips to the playoffs in his two full seasons in charge.

"I feel rewarded for all the hard work that's been put in," Kreis said.

Real's journey continues Sunday night at Qwest Field in Seattle in the final, where the Los Angeles Galaxy seek their first title since 2005, when they won as the unofficial eighth seed. A title for the Galaxy would be their third overall title and first in the David Beckham era.

Meanwhile, Kreis and Real will try to take one last, longest step for Kreis to fulfill their long-term plan.

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