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Ten games in, Jeff Cassar showing real quality in head coach role

Gene Sweeney Jr.

We’re ten games into the season — and ten games into Jeff Cassar’s managerial career.

Those ten games have seen Real Salt Lake struggle to score, concede late goals, and, by some miracle, remain undefeated through some difficult times.

But there’s a flip side to that: Those same ten games have seen not just continuity, but improvement. The attack feels as potent as it’s ever felt, and that’s not just down to improvement from Joao Plata. We’re committing resources into attacking moments, and while it’s been a risky maneuver, throwing caution to the wind has played in our favor time and time again.

There’s the 3-2 win over Chicago Fire, with three goals in the second half to rescue points. There’s last week’s 5-2 win over Houston Dynamo, with attacking movement and individual brilliance ripping the opposition limb from limb. There’s the 1-0 over LA Galaxy to start things, and there’s plenty in-between to be excited about.

But when it’s all going so well, we’re due for one of the bigger challenges we’ll face through the season: International duty, losing three key players to the World Cup’s gaping maw. We can’t stop talking about the impact that will have, and part of that may just be excitement about the fervor around the international game. There’s a lot to be excited for, and these three players have an opportunity to make a mark on a bigger stage than they’ve really been afforded.

It won’t be Cassar’s undoing if we struggle without those three. In fact, it would be tough to blame anybody, as it’s simply one of those things you have to deal with as a club with players of international renown.

We’re not in an awful position; leadership isn’t in short shrift with these absence of these three. For every Nick Rimando, there’s a Nat Borchers; for every Kyle Beckerman, there’s a Javier Morales. We don’t need to worry about that: Cassar will have options ahead of Saturday’s match.

We might ask what Jason Kreis would have done, but it’s moot: He’s gone. We should ask ourselves if we’ve improved without him, and there’s every reason to think we have. We can wonder about the causal mechanism, though — is it down to Cassar’s decisions? Is it because we were trending forward a year ago, and the continuity has helped that?

It seems likely. Continuity in MLS is so often at a premium that those who retain players and don’t make unnecessary moves simply for their own sake are viewed as entirely unique entities. Real Salt Lake is one; Sporting Kansas City is another. Both teams have reached their positions by soldiering forward through more difficult moments when weaker coaches would sacrifice pieces of the puzzle in exchange for another piece no more important. It leaves us fortunate that Jeff Cassar’s thinking has lined up with the foundation that Jason Kreis laid with Garth Lagerwey, but that’s probably not a mistake. Cassar isn’t new to the club, to the game, to the squad — that’s continuity, even with a substantial change behind him.

But let’s be loud about this one: Jeff Cassar has been good in his first ten games as head coach of Real Salt Lake. The real tests haven’t even started — once key members of the squad start retiring, change will be inevitable. The expansion draft is inevitable, and we’ll lose players there. Meaningful, important players.

So we can judge Cassar on what he’s done so far, and we surely should give him a passing grade — top marks, even. Early indications provide us a great view toward the future, but it won’t be until we’re there that he’ll really get his first tests.

Until then, let’s just bask in this.