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What if... Jeff Cassar wasn’t fired?

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Could Cassar have guided RSL to a playoff place after all?

MLS: FC Dallas at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

You have to go back 10 years to find the last time Real Salt Lake fired a coach in the middle of a season, to May 3rd, 2007 to the resignation of John Ellinger, the inaugural RSL head coach.

After two-and-a-bit years in the driving seat at Real Salt Lake, Ellinger was replaced by Jason Kreis, who would go on to give RSL their only MLS Cup win, taking an expansion side and writing the blueprint for success with his tactical play, man management and desire to win. Now, Kreis left after the end of the 2013 season to join NYCFC in an ill-fated attempt to capture lightning in a bottle twice, but it wasn’t like he wasn’t wanted; he simply chose to take a new chance somewhere else.

Almost ten years to the day later, the 4 year reign of Jeff Cassar came to an end after a series of disappointing performances in both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. It was a long time coming for most fans, and many questioned the wisdom offering a coach who had led the team into such a downward spiral an extension in the off season, but that’s the choice the office made. However, with Mike Petke holding the reigns at Real Monarchs, it was easy to see the axe looming over the neck of Cassar and just who would be installed to take his place on the throne.

However, it could have all been so different, which is why I’m going to ask the question as part of our “What if...” series:

What if Jeff Cassar was never fired?

Well, first of all, we wouldn’t have ever hard the greatest moment in the post-Kreis RSL era:

Man, we should all aspire to be this passionate when a printer breaks down. They should show this at matinee times in cinemas. Netflix should make a TV movie staring Paul Rudd on this press conference.

In my eyes, things would have been very different for RSL with Cassar holding onto the reigns for the 2017 season.

Squad Harmony

The main thing that would have been avoided would have been the Plata/Movsisyan/Petke drama that took up much of the summer. After Joao Plata was rumoured to be suspended by the Ecuadorian National Team, his relationship with Petke became strained, his performances suffered, and his future at the club looked less than secure. Meanwhile, the production of Yura Movsisyan dropped massively, as did his playtime, with Luis Silva becoming a makeshift striker for most of the season.

If Cassar had stayed, I believe Plata wouldn’t have had a dip in form and a desire to move on during the middle of the season. I also believe Cassar would have kept faith in Movsisyan and moved players around him to better support his skills. It’s my opinion that we would have actually seen better performances from these two players and maybe even a few more goals as the team moved through the season.

Wins and Losses

Results are what matters in a season, and with those improved performances I’m predicting, I think RSL beats the Red Bulls and Minnesota under Cassar. Things weren’t that bad against LA Galaxy, and we lost thanks to losing Kyle Beckerman to a red card in the 44th minute and playing a man down for the whole second half. From there it’s harder to predict, really, but I don’t think the team qualifies for the playoffs under Cassar. While the performances might improve I still think Cassar couldn’t work out how to balance his tactics to ensure that the free flowing attacking play he wanted didn’t come at the expense of defensive work. He just left his teams too open to counter attack, too easy to stretch and too weak to hold the ball.

Personnel Changes

With Cassar at the reigns, I don’t think we get Savarino, and I don’t think we get Marcelo Silva. I think Brooks Lennon and Plata end up holding the winger positions down for the season, while Allen sits on the sidelines. I don’t think Maund goes either, as Cassar always remained loyal to players he believed in, even if they weren’t producing that well. I think Saucedo gets more minutes in the team, but Luis Silva gets far less. Acosta probably doesn’t get a shot a left back, with Cassar holding faith in Wingert and Phillips in that slot. Reagan Dunk probably gets a bigger shot while Tony Beltran sits out with a back injury, as Cassar rated the first round draft pick very highly. I don’t think it changes much other than us missing out on Savarino, who looks to be a key player for 2018.

Verdict

Ultimately, I think Cassar goes after missing the 2017 playoffs and is replaced by Mike Petke, fresh off winning the USL title with Real Monarchs. From the moment Petke was signed I could see where things were heading and I was shocked the trigger wasn’t pulled sooner to be honest. I’d love to know what convinced the ownership at Real Salt Lake to give Cassar the whole of pre season and then three games before giving him the boot but I fear we will never know.

So overall, I don’t think we’d be celebrating a play off place but I think the team is better for Petke being in charge. He was an inevitability and his arrival now has given the team a dry run before 2018 comes around. We’ve picked up some quality players while getting rid of a couple of players who needed to move on.

While sad, it’s been a positive change. Thanks for the memories, Jeff; we will always have that sweater...