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Jeff Cassar's press conferences are more than fluff, but they're far from perfect

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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake's Jeff Cassar gets a lot of flak for what some see as overly positive press conferences, and last night's loss to Portland Timbers is no exception.

But while it's easy to see what he said and take the view that he should publicly excoriate his players, there's at least something we can gain from his press conferences.

While the focus is typically on what he says about his players — and he almost always shields them in the media — he will typically have something to say about tactics. Let's go through last night's press conference (quotes via RSL Communications) and suss it out.

[We] fell asleep on one long clearance. After looking at it, it should’ve been dealt with better but the foul was outside the box. Everyone’s been looking at it. Everyone sees the exact same thing. I think the referees know that it happened outside the box.

After that our players played with urgency and passion. And we didn’t get the result. It feels really tough, it’s at an awful time in the season, but I’m definitely proud of my players.

It was a red card. It was a long clearance, we didn’t deal with it well, and we were forced to that. If you look at the replay it’s just a gruesome play. It’s something that we talked about. They are very direct, win the second balls, everything. You take a little play off and you have to react.

But the most meaningful, substantive part of the quote doesn't come until the end. And, well, the first line. Anyway, here:

[We] fell asleep on one long clearance. (...) It was a long clearance, we didn’t deal with it well, and we were forced to that. If you look at the replay it’s just a gruesome play. It’s something that we talked about. They are very direct, win the second balls, everything. You take a little play off and you have to react.

That's substantive discussion about the match. He is actively saying here that the players didn't deal with play well. He can talk about being proud of them, and we should consider that separately — even if the sentences were adjacent.

Let's try another.

At the end of the day it is a season of work. We are in this position where we must win games but on a different night we could get a different result. Anytime you’re in these games you should have 11 players on the field and not give up set play goals.

I think we would have had a different result had we had 11 players but I’m really proud of the work our players put in. We are going to bed tonight. We are going to wake up tomorrow knowing exactly what we have to do [to make the playoffs] and everything but we need to leave this game alone.

It’s over, and mathematically we are not out and I know with the character we have in our locker room we are going to approach all the games the right way. The staff and myself will come together and have a good game plan. This one hurts, there is no getting around that but we adjust.

And here's the substantive part.

We are in this position where we must win games but on a different night we could get a different result. Anytime you’re in these games you should have 11 players on the field and not give up set play goals.

There's less there, but there's still something. He's not wrong that on a different night, there could be a different result — I think here, he's trying to underscore the razor-thin gap between these two teams at times. The whole match came down to essentially one moment.

Here's the thing: Coaches are rarely media experts, and they're often not great — or even good — at getting their points across in the heat of the moment, or immediately following a difficult loss. They're juggling a million things in their head, and that makes it awfully tough.

That's especially the case when you have a desire to shield your players from criticism — at least self-imposed criticism — and maybe Cassar doesn't handle it well. Maybe he should be a bit more publicly excoriating, and maybe he should get into his players every now and again when things don't go well. But that's a matter of opinion, and I have absolutely no clue what the best approach is there.

Don't take this as a statement about Cassar's coaching ability — that's up for debate, certainly, and we should have a long, hard discussion about that very thing, but let's not jump to conclusions based solely on his press conferences.