Major League Soccer tends to be among the more genial leagues in the team. Player rights are controlled by the league, and the league itself owns each team — that’s the single-entity way.
But every now and again, something flares up that makes you think that not everything is the rosy image put forward, and the start of Jeff Cassar’s Real Salt Lake career is one of those moments.
The year? 2007. Jeff Cassar was in his first year at FC Dallas as a goalkeeper coach. Over at Real Salt Lake, Jason Kreis — in only his first month in the coaching gig after retiring from his playing career — was struggling to come to grips with league rules and some of the finer points of his new role.
Not long after Kreis was hired, he parted ways with Peter Mellor, the club’s then-goalkeeper coach. To replace him was a former teammate: Jeff Cassar. They’d played together at Dallas Burn.
From a story on MLSSoccer.com at the time (ignore the publish date of 2010 there):
"The decision to let Peter Mellor go was a very difficult one for me. He is just an absolute class gentleman," said RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis. "The only thing that makes that notion bearable is the fact that we are replacing him with Jeff Cassar, who was a longtime teammate and friend of mine in Dallas. Jeff will add some new ideas, some fresh viewpoints, and a comforting, supporting factor for me, unrivaled by anyone. The players will all enjoy his spirit and he will quickly become an absolute treasure to this staff and to this club."
Not too controversial, right? If only it were that simple.
Cassar, at the time, was under contract with FC Dallas, and that led to a tampering charge. A 2007 report from still-active MLS writer Steve Davis described the happenings:
But RSL officials didn't follow proper business etiquette in approaching another team's employee. For that, they'll give FC Dallas a third-round draft pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. League spokesman Dan Courtemanche acknowledged there was some punitive element to the league response, that it wasn't purely compensatory. There may be a fine forthcoming, as well.
A report from the time shed a little more light on the situation. It specified that Mellor hadn’t been dismissed summarily, but rather that Kreis had offered Cassar a future position, not a current one.
According to the source there was an apparent misunderstanding between Kreis and Cassar in reference to the position being offered and that the actual “start date was in the future” and not an immediate job offer as was the understanding of Jeff Cassar. The consequences of that phone call led to the dismissal of Peter Mellor.
Cassar notified officials at FC Dallas of the offer and asked to be released from his contract so that he could take the job. Instead of being released he was fired. FC Dallas then notified the league of the infraction by RSL.
That infraction cost Real Salt Lake something like $20,000. Now, whether that was real currency or MLS allocation money is another thing — but given this was a decade ago, we’ll probably never know.
A 2007 report from the Salt Lake Tribune spelled out the exact punishment meted out.
RSL hired Cassar, a rookie coach who spent five months as a member of the FC Dallas coaching staff, on May 24 after firing Peter Mellor.
The league also fined FC Dallas $5,000 for not adhering to regulations regarding contact with a coach of an opposing team.
Of course, that’s not the only thing that landed Kreis in hot water at a league level. By wearing away kits at home — those white uniforms — against New York Red Bulls, he reportedly prompted a fine from the league. In that Steve Davis report above, a club source apparently said the team was interested in signing Shalrie Joseph (this was before the Kyle Beckerman era began, of course). That prompted a warning, not a fine. Still — things were chaotic.
Oh, and a match with FC Dallas’s reserve side was cancelled — that prompted a $10,000 fine.
While there was plenty of speculation at the time about the ordeal — maybe Kreis’s goal wasn’t to be rid of Mellor but instead offer a future deal to Cassar, for instance, or maybe Nick Rimando’s confidence had shaken significantly under Mellor, or maybe it was merely part of Kreis taking the job and installing his own staff — all we really know now is that the fine was handed out, and Real Salt Lake got a new goalkeeper coach.