If there’s been one recurring theme to 2015 and 2016, it’s that there’s been more than a little bit of discussion about whether Jeff Cassar should be retained at Real Salt Lake.
After all, Cassar is in a contract year, and recent form has been clearly skewed downward. As always, attention turns distinctly toward the coaching staff during those circumstances, and that’s especially the case when the offending team is full of normally reliable veterans.
With that in mind, we gathered a handful of RSL Soapbox writers to have a discussion about whether Cassar should be extended a contract offer.
My take on Cassar is similar to others who have been quite outspoken on both the Soapbox comments and on Reddit, I'm just not as vocal about it. He has now had 2 years out of Kreis' shadow; last year's results were unfortunately understandable, the inherent problems with implementing a new formation on a team that had been so dependent on the diamond midfield was bound to cause some issues, couple that with Plata's injury and it was a given that 2015 was going to be an uphill battle.
However, 2016 was Cassar's year to shine. Players were now used to the formation change, we had 3 extremely dangerous strikers, and a veteran (if aging) midfield core. Center backs were out main weakness, but soon proved to be less of an issue with the Glad/Maund pairing proving their worth.
On the whole he as a marginal positive record, but many of the same problems exist: Substitutions that seem to make little sense, or come too late to be effective, continuing to rely on some players that have been under-performing rather than giving one of the younger players a start, conceding early goals (very often), and being unable to close out games when we're ahead. And lastly once again the team has lost the majority of their away games. Those are not the marks of a top tier team. Cassar has had his chance, it's time for someone who may have better ideas.
Jeff Cassar has lost his way at the helm of Real Salt Lake. Too often the Claret-and-Cobalt ownership and management have rested on the laurels of the previous management to shield their decisions throughout the Cassar era. While Cassar was a member of the previous management, that does not inherently absolve him from decisions he is making as the head coach currently.
Just this past week, Cassar launched a robust criticism of his players with the assumption it will make them stronger, but from all outward appearances it looks as if he has simply lost the locker-room.
Cassar is already under pressure at RSL after missing out on the post-season last year – snapping the league’s longest concurrent playoff appearance record – and dealing with a fair share of sub-par squad performances this year.
Historically, the Claret-and-Cobalt kept a tight formation and marshaled the midfield. This both maximized their strengths and exploited their opponents’ weaknesses. Skip ahead three years and a nice piece of direct combo play down the center of the pitch and RSL completely falls apart. Under Cassar, RSL scores 45 goals and concedes 44 as a season average – compared to 49 and 37, respectfully under Jason Kreis.
In short, not only is RSL scoring less under Cassar, but they are also conceding 20% more goals. But this is not the only area that Cassar falls short in. His substitute pattern is horrendous, inserting players in the dying embers of the match to simply waste time, rather than adding a game-changing spark at the 60-minute mark.
While critique can be a part of the evolutionary process of any well-groomed manager, this assessment of Cassar is more cause to see him depart than holding out out for hope in his future with the club.
Jeff Cassar’s time in charge of RSL has seen its share of ups and downs. It’s hard to find an abundance of greatness when we have dismal postseasons to dwell on — getting destroyed in the Western Conference semis in 2014 (5-0 loss to LA), missing the playoffs in 2015, and coming down to the wire in Cassar’s third season in charge. It’s been an incredibly long adjustment period since Kreis left and it seems at times that Cassar is still trying to find his own coaching style.
I think his future here heavily depends on how the next few weeks go. It’s rare to see a coach let go from an MLS club when their team is still above the red line in playoff contention, much less when they actually qualify — though it has happened. We can talk about the injuries to our big players that Jeff has had to deal with all season long, but we’ve dropped plenty of points even with our preferred starting eleven. I think if somehow RSL misses the playoffs for the second year in a row — especially when they could have clinched a playoff spot by now — it would be time for a change.
I’m glad that the front office has given Cassar such a big window of a chance instead of firing him on impulse at the first sign of trouble like many other organizations would have, but unless we see some success in the form of a playoff run, he shouldn’t be offered an extension in Salt Lake.
To be clear, Jeff Cassar's job is on the line. It's all about the trajectory of the team and whether or not they are able to make the playoffs. Cassar's first year on the job was relatively easy. He inherited an already successful system and players that could basically coach themselves. 2015, as we all know, was a disaster. The team lacked heart and confidence and therefore missed the postseason. Now, if RSL manage to miss the MLS Playoffs for the second year in a row, I think RSL should and will find a new coach. If they make it to the Playoffs, it's easy to show that they are headed in the right direction and that things are vastly better than they were last year.
There are a couple of other factors to take into account, even though they should not necessarily determine Cassar's job status. First, it is well documented that this team, General Manager Craig Waibel specifically, said that Real Salt Lake as currently constituted is not the finished product. He said he plans on adding a couple more pieces. What does this mean for Cassar? It means that this team is not yet what the front office want it to be so it's hard to hold them to championship expectations if the front office does not think this is the finished product yet. The roster has a couple more changes coming that will strengthen the club's performances.
Second, Yura Movsisyan and other players stated a few times that they think Cassar is a much better coach this year and that he earned a contract extension. So there are at least some players that want him back.
At the end of the day, wins fix everything and if Cassar can provide a narrative that shows RSL is headed in the right direction, his job is safe. If not, he will need to look for another job.