It'd be nice if we lived in a world where Salt Lake fans could just enjoy the week of the MLS Cup final, y'know? A world where the buildup to the club's second league title match was all anyone talked about, and where the pleasant unpleasantness of rivalry was the only contrary note to a feel-good chorus of approbation?
Alas, fallen world, alas. Salt Lake may win its second title on Saturday evening, but a snake has been espied in the garden, and as usual he has something delicious to offer: Jason Kreis, the only manager Royals fans have loved, is reportedly weighing whether to bid farewell to the Wasatch Front and say hello to Broadway.
Source: Kreis "almost 100%" to NYCFC, Bob Bradley "seriously considering" Vancouver Whitecaps. (My hunch: BB's 1st choice remains Europe.)— Brian Straus (@BrianStraus) December 2, 2013
Kreis is understandably frustrated by the timing of the story, just five days before the MLS Cup, but the attention is also perfectly understandable: Kreis has been outstanding on the sideline almost from the moment of his abrupt retirement as a player in 2007. This season, in particular, has been laudable, managing the kind of roster turnover that sinks lesser organizations - offseason departures included Will Johnson, Jamison Olave (potential Best XI players both) and Fabian Espindola. In the process, Kreis showed the longer-term plan at work, as he and his staff were able to turn to a host of young players they'd developed in-house. Luis Gil, seemingly adrift when picked up at 16 years old, broke in as a regular starter at 19. Chris Schuler matured into perhaps the best defender in the playoffs in the run to the Cup final. Everywhere you look on the RSL roster, you see players who have gotten better since coming to Utah; how many MLS teams can say that?
So it's hardly surprising NYCFC is interested in Kreis. The question is, should he be interested in them? Is that apple (made, in all likelihood, from apple-flavored money) as delicious as it looks?
The argument for NYCFC
Money, moneymoneymoney money: Did we mention money? Because money. The consortium rolling out NYCFC could buy MLS and have it play its entire season as beach soccer on private atolls in undisclosed locations. They could pay Jason Kreis in tankers of sweet, light crude. They bankroll Manchester City, with the craziest boondoggle roster in the world. They've muscled into the crowded and sometimes vicious New York youth soccer development game by - get this! - paying key people to be okay with it. If you're Jason Kreis, and you've spent six years getting nickel-and-dimed by sometimes underfunded owners, the prospect of hot-and-cold running taps of cash in every room must have some attraction.
New York, New York: Then there's the future to think of. At 40, Kreis' resume is looking strong; what does he want long-term? Managing in Europe? Coaching the USA? Either option could be his for the taking if he does well in what will surely be the highest-profile managing job in this country. Winning big in Salt Lake City is 'promising' and 'exciting;' winning big in New York City would be a golden ticket.
Proving it's really about him: Every step of the way, Kreis and general manager Garth Lagerway have worked their plan for the RSL roster - but how much credit goes to Kreis and how much to Lagerway? No one becomes a professional striker without an ego, and by moving to NYCFC, Kreis can isolate the variable, proving his coaching and tactics make the difference. Some point to the 'team is the star' mantra, saying Kreis is above such concerns; I think of the snake, imagine the garden, smell the delicious apple even through its skin, and wonder.
The argument for RSL
Insane expectations: There's ego, and there's hubris. NYCFC's limitless cash comes with serious strings attached - namely, win or get out. This City-group will be less interested in excuses than the other Citigroup in town, and no less pitiless when moving to correct shortfalls in outcomes. Yes, Kreis would have resources, but no, he wouldn't have stability; three bad months could undo the reputation he's built over six-plus years in Utah.
The shieks can't just buy a crown: Hey, we've got a football cartel running things here in the USA, and while bid-rigging, labor-squelching cartels are near and dear to the hearts of oil executives everywhere, the salary cap may come as a shock to the shieks. Even imagining absolutely insane Designated Players - Cristiano Ronaldo? Yaya Toure? - there's still only three available, and still just around $3 million with which to pay the players. You're still going to have a roster half-made of car tires and chicken wire, but everyone, everywhere is going to act like the team is Man City: The Americaning.
The heart wants what the heart wants: Not everyone dreams of doing the Scrooge McDuck dive into piles of currency ("That kinda lux just ain't for us / We crave a different kind of buzz"). Kreis has built something worth watching in Salt Lake City; what we don't know is how much SLC resides in his heart. It's possible to imagine that Kreis simply says, "Thanks, but no thanks," and stays nestled in the mountains and foothills of Wasatch Front, watching his children grow, tending to his roster with the patience of a gardener.