Nine years later, No. 9 is moving on.
Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis, the first player in RSL history and the only player to have his number retired by the franchise, was named the head coach of New York City FC, the 20th Major League Soccer franchise set to join the league in 2015. Coach of RSL for the last seven seasons, Kreis was initially acquired as RSL's first official player in November 2004 and retired in May 2007 to become the club's second head coach under former owner Dave Checketts.
Kreis made his decision to move to New York three days following RSL's loss to Sporting Kansas City in a marathon penalty-kick shootout in the 2013 MLS Cup final at Sporting Park on Dec. 7. NYCFC is owned by English Premier League giant Manchester City, where Kreis will spend time working with City coach Manuel Pellegrini, soccer legend Patrick Vieira and Txiki Begiristain, the club's director of football, as stated in a release by NYCFC Tuesday night.
"I am looking forward to making my contribution to New York City FC from the very outset," Kreis said in the release. "The opportunity to develop the first professional club based in New York City was impossible to pass up as was the chance to immerse myself in the football operations in Manchester observing some of the leading figures in European football. There will be a lot to do before our inaugural season in 2015, but I'm confident that with the support teams in the City organization, we will be well placed to hit the ground running."
Hyper-focused and intense, Kreis helped implement a style and a slogan "The Team is the Star" that would resonate with RSL fans and soccer supporters around the country, one that would propel RSL to its first MLS Cup crown in 2009 and into four major cup finals in his seven years at the helm.
RSL made the playoffs six consecutive seasons under Kreis' watch and were the first MLS team ever to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League final in April 2011. In each of the last four seasons, RSL has finished with at least 15 wins and at least 50 points.
Contract negotiations had been ongoing between Kreis and RSL ownership, in this the final year of his contract as the season wore on, but Kreis asked first-year own Dell Loy Hansen to table the talks until after the season ended following RSL's 1-0 loss to D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup final on Oct. 1.
"I think as you get to be a great man, and Jason early in his life is, you start saying, 'What mountains are there for me to climb?' " Hansen said in an interview with the Tribune on Dec. 4. "I really think it is that I don't think it's a money issue whatsoever. I think it's, 'What mountains can you put in front of me?'"
In a release from the RSL, the club said it has begun the search for a new head coach and expects to hire one before the end of the week. Logical candidates could be former RSL assistant coach Robin Fraser or current assistants Jeff Cassar and Miles Joseph.
"It'll be a turning point if he leaves," RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey said in an interview with The Tribune in November. "It'll be different, and there will be a lot of pressure on us, I think, to go out there and find somebody that is of the same caliber as Jason is."
In the news conference after RSL's heart-wrenching loss to SKC, Kreis took the podium with remnants of tears in his eyes. After rattling off the stresses of the preparation for a final and the days leading up to MLS Cup, Kreis found all of that easier than his decision.
"What happens over the next couple of days is real hard," he said.
Defender Tony Beltran was Kreis' first draft pick as a head coach back in 2008. He said Kreis instilled an environment in which the team can continue to build upon the success built upon since 2007.
Speaking hypothetically before Kreis announced his decision, Beltran said, "It'll also be up to the players to now live up to say not everything is just because of him, and say that even though Jason may not be here, we can still achieve and we can still do something special, because that's what he taught us."
The foundation constructed under RSL's initial player allowed a club previously searching for an identity and wins to play in cup finals and become established among MLS elite.
"His name is on the building," Lagerwey said.
RSL under Kreis
Record across all competitions • 111-87-69
MLS regular season record • 90-71-58
MLS playoff record • 7-6-6
2013 • 16-10-8 (56 points)
2012 • 17-11-6 (57 points)
2011 • 15-11-8 (53 points)
2010 • 15-4-11 (56 points)
2009 • 11-12-7 (40 points)
2008 • 10-10-10 (40 points)
2007 • 6-15-9 (27 points)*
*Took over on May 3, 2007
Kreis' player stats
Played 21/2 season with RSL:
Appearances • 58
Goals • 17. Career goals • 108