Real Salt Lake has been a team that all others have tried to emulate in the past. But the last 3 seasons, RSL has fallen from the elite status faster than any other team in the league. There are many reasons why this has happened, and there are changes that can be made to make RSL a championship contender and to have the RioT be the fortress that it once was.
One of the biggest reasons that there has been a drop in performance by RSL is a struggle that we are still having this season: RED CARDS. Keeping 11 men on the field has been a struggle at times for RSL. This is due to a lot of different factors but one is the most clear to everyone watching RSL; there is no discipline within the team. With having a team record of 9 red cards in the 2015 season, RSL is well on their way to breaking that record with 3 red cards in the first 3 games.
The discipline issue, or the lack thereof, starts with the players on the field but ultimately lies on the shoulders of the head coach. Jeff Cassar has been the Head Coach for RSL since the start of the 2014 Season. While he does have a record of 27-23-21 but, the RSL of old has died under his tenure. Before Cassar took over, Real Salt Lake reached the MLS Cup Final , losing on the last penalty (which still hurts to this day). Since then, RSL has been eliminated from the playoffs in the first round in a humiliating fashion to LA Galaxy and for the first time in 7 seasons, missed the playoffs. Yes, there are players that they have lost that created huge gaps in the core of the team, like Nat Borchers but, a team should be able to recover with the additions of new players. With no discipline how can Real Salt Lake move in the same direction? Cassar had 2 red cards last season which can create a lot of questions as to whether or not he is, or ever was, fit to be a head coach.
Cassar will always be compared to is his predecessor, Jason Kreis. Kreis was not only feared on the field but he was feared off the field. He knew how to carry himself during games to give the team discipline to have one of the most complete teams. He would not put up with the things RSL players can do now. Not only does Cassar have 2 red cards last season but RSL has MLS’s all team leading red card holder: Jamison Olave. Cassar has enabled him to do what he likes on the field because no matter what, he will be putting him back on the field. We have other center backs that can be put into the game so that they can get experience, but what Real Salt Lake really needs to do is sign a dependable center back, but that is a whole other issue.
What can RSL do to fix the discipline issue?
With the poor performances last season and the inability to close out games so far this season, is there an expiration date for Jeff Cassar? While I don’t think that changing a coach mid-season is a good idea, the possibility of hiring a new head coach should be an option on the table. Don’t get me wrong, Cassar is a good coach. But, is he head coach material? No, he is a player’s coach. That isn’t a bad thing, but it does not make for good head coaching material.
You may be asking yourself, well if Jeff Cassar should not be head coach, what does RSL do? The answer is simple: Wait. Now, before you think I have completely lost my mind, hear me out. Although they have struggled in the past, RSL is starting to shine, but there is a lack conviction from the team that cannot come from the current coaching staff. A coach should be someone who has had experience in all levels of the game, from professional to international duty and the biggest stage of them all, the FIFA World Cup. While there is no current coach that would fulfill all those requirements, there is one within the organization that has embodied the Spirit of the Claret and Cobalt more than anyone else and his contract ends after the 2017 season. Kyle Beckerman should become the next head coach for Real Salt Lake.
Beckerman is one of the faces of the franchise. He does, at times, have a temper but at the end of the day, he is the anchor for the team. Tactically, he can play and learn any system and adapt to the style of play which was evident in the 2014 World Cup. The US played well with Beckerman on field and struggled in their last match without him. On a side note, my favorite highlight of the entire World Cup was watching Beckerman slide tackle and take down Cristiano Ronaldo. But nothing can compare to the leadership that Beckerman has within the Claret and Cobalt. He has created a reputation as the best holding defensive mid-field and someone you do not want to cross on the field, Beckerman has not only the personal relationship with the players, but the discipline to make RSL a great team again.
Beckerman has voiced his opinion and he has called for change within the organization, so why not make him the change? While RSL has a week off before they face the ever dynamic Sporting KC, there should start to be a discussion of whether or not this season is a make or break season for Jeff Cassar. But, only time will tell.