This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Real Salt Lake fired coach Jeff Cassar after studying him just long enough to determine that he's not Jason Kreis.
Monday's dismissal makes Cassar the soccer equivalent of Gary Crowton or Tyrone Corbin around here, cast in the role of following a highly successful coach and failing. RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen's move three games into the season is not completely surprising, in the sense that he's an impulsive guy and everybody understood Cassar's new contract carried a financial guarantee only through this season.
The obvious question: Why now? Or better phrased: Why not then?
Amid the general rejoicing among RSL fans after Cassar's firing with a 38-37-30 record in three-plus seasons, I wonder what Hansen and general manager Craig Waibel witnessed this winter that they missed (or were willing to overlook) as of last November. Waibel spoke of "continued observation" since training camp started exactly two months ago, while insisting that "no smoking gun, no one instance" triggered the move.
That's doubtful. If you've ever heard Hansen talk about this market and his obsession about competing against any Los Angeles entity, you have to believe that Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Galaxy at Rio Tinto Stadium had something to do with the timing. USC once fired a basketball coach right after beating Utah in Salt Lake City, but Cassar almost certainly would be coaching this team if RSL had not lost a 1-0 lead while playing with 10 men after captain Kyle Beckerman's red card.
Cassar is a good man; I'm consoled by Hansen's having to pay him and, soon, another coach for the rest of the season. Knowing the coaching change almost inevitably was going to happen sometime in 2017, it might as well be right now.
The three-game judgment period makes the expansion New Orleans Jazz look like they waited forever to fire coach Scotty Robertson after 15 games in 1974-75. That's about six games on the MLS calendar.
Judging by the tone of his postgame comments after the season-opening 0-0 tie with Toronto FC, Cassar clearly wanted to be evaluated only by what happened this year. The reality is that fans remembered how RSL finished last season, with a scoring drought resulting in an October fade and a quick playoff exit thanks to the Galaxy, coincidentally or not. In January, when I asked Cassar how he wanted to be judged this year, he said an aggressive, entertaining style of soccer that reflected his personality would be the standard.
When his team scored one goal in three games, such production was damning. So, apparently, was everything that Waibel witnessed in the preseason, with a lack of progress he defined as "a little bit behind where we wanted to be."
As much as I marvel about Major League Soccer's interminable regular season, there's some value in making this move in March, once you get past the stunning aspect of the timing. Think about this: Waibel could take a month to find Cassar's replacement, and six months of the schedule would remain.
That still doesn't answer the question of whether RSL would have been better off to conduct this search in December, though. Personally, I liked the structure of Cassar's contract extension, making it clear that he had to deliver right away. I just didn't know March 20 would be a significant checkpoint.
But here we are, with a move that Waibel said was "made by the club in its entirety," although it certainly has Hansen's imprint. In the fourth season since Hansen allowed Kreis to move on (first to New York City FC, then to Orlando City SC), and promoted Cassar, RSL is starting over.
The franchise's goal should be to discover another Quin Snyder. Even another Bronco Mendenhall would be acceptable, as Cassar joins Crowton and Corbin in the club of coaches who recognize it is better to be the guy who follows the guy who follows the legend.
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