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Why hiring Freddy Juarez makes sense for RSL

It’s a move with risk, but it may be the right one.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake’s announcement today of the hiring of Freddy Juarez as the club’s coach finalizes a coaching appointment that’s been waiting since late July.

While there’s certainly a fairly substantial question mark hanging over Juarez’s head, he has some qualities that make him a good pick. Here’s why the move makes sense.

Freddy Juarez mounted a magnificent midseason turnaround

While you can make plenty of arguments about the “new coach” bump, it’s obvious for all to see that Real Salt Lake improved under Freddy Juarez — and not just a little. His 7-2-4 record (W-D-L, as it should be written) saw RSL qualify for a home playoff game, which was entirely unexpected when he took over.

But the record is just one thing to consider. For me, the bigger consideration is that he was able to take RSL from a generic route-one team, relying heavily on individual skill, to a possession-minded team that wanted to keep the ball and play progressive soccer. He did all that in just a few weeks after former RSL coach Mike Petke’s suspension was issued, and the team was almost immediately transformed when Juarez took over.

We’d spent the better part of five years playing ugly, regressive soccer with bits of brilliance scattered in. That turnaround was swift and significant, and it won us points when we might otherwise have failed.

Now, does that mean he coached perfectly? Of course not, and I’d have been shocked if he’d come out of the gates perfected.

The organization demands people familiar with its unique problems

Freddy Juarez has been in the Real Salt Lake organization for nearly a decade, making him one of the longest-tenured figures at the club. He understands what it is to work with Dell Loy Hansen — something that has been a sticking point for previous tenants of the job — and has remained in the organization. Now, perhaps that’s a bad thing, given he’s also seen a lot, but you know what? This is a net positive for me.

The same thing, but with benefits

We have a particularly robust academy system that consistently produces professional players. If we were to hire a coach whose focus was not on producing youth or utilizing youth, we’d find ourselves in a worse position. It has been and remains uniquely positive for us, and giving that up would considerably undercut any momentum we may have.

Every coach offers unknowns: Do we know Freddy’s?

The biggest unknown around Freddy Juarez, to my mind, is that he’s only coached a bit at this level. We know he can develop players — at least in the right circumstance — and we know he can maintain or gain momentum after a coach has been fired. But beyond that, Freddy Juarez leaves question marks.

For me, that he knows the organization emphasizes the big unknowns even previously successful coaches might offer. Some of those unknowns are difficult to anticipate — Mike Petke’s shameful explosion, for one — and some are easier.

Even coaches with formerly successful records in MLS can be a bad fit for any organization. You need look no further than Jason Kreis at Orlando City SC and New York City FC, where he wasn’t the best fit, and where he didn’t find success. That came after a long string of successes at Real Salt Lake. That’s not to say that Kreis was entirely at fault or entirely worthy of praise, but it does show how a new environment makes a huge difference.