RSL coach Jason Kreis talks on-field strategy and building long-term success
STRAUS: You’ve had some real disappointment in the playoffs the past three years. It can complicate the evaluation process, can’t it?
I appreciate playoffs. They ask things of a player that regular season games don’t. It’s more intense. You’re playing against another very good team that has everything on the line, just like you. There’s more pressure. You have to rise to the occasion.
But at the same time, it can be one or two games, a bounce here or there, an injury, and you’re done. It’s not always fair. Does the three years of postseason frustration say anything about what you’ve built — your ideas, your philosophy, your system, the types of players you’ve signed? When you haven’t won it for three years, do you reassess or do you believe that contending consistently means you’re on the right track?
KREIS: I think it’s a very, very interesting thing to think about. It’s very interesting to think about because of the fact that we have such a different level of expectation, even within our own club. It used to be very clear that everything we did, we were basically overachieving.
STRAUS: Did that come internally or from fans and people like me?
KREIS: Internally, people like you, people in our management, ownership, everybody. Fans. Right? Making the playoffs, then a conference final [in 2008]. “Oh my God!” MLS Cup [in 2009]. “Oh my God!”
Now it’s the point where we’ve lost that feeling of, “We did really good! We did really good getting to where we got to.”
We completely lost it so much so that last year, after attaining more points than we ever attained in a season, more wins, more goals. We did a lot of it again. Every year it seems like we get this “first” that we went after and we achieved. And we did X, Y and Z last year, the three things I just said. And we finished the year [with a conference semifinal loss to the Seattle Sounders], and it’s like we failed. The feeling from the top to the bottom was that we failed. And I personally I feel like that’s so wrong on so many different levels.
STRAUS: But that’s going to be your instinct at the time, just after it ends….
KREIS: And guess what? I was part of it. I felt it internally. I didn’t need to be told by Garth or anybody else. I felt it internally, that we failed. But that’s wrong. It’s the wrong way to motivate. It’s the wrong way to compete. I think that we behaved wrong and we evaluated the season in the wrong way.
We have to continue to say that what we have done is amazing. What we have built over a very few amount of years — a philosophy, an identity, a playing style — so many things that we have done, we need to be appreciative and continue to take it week by week and not say, “If we don’t win the Cup, then this or that is going to happen.” I firmly believe that if you put yourself in a place to win the Cup, if you give yourself a chance every year, that’s all you can ask.
STRAUS: Isn’t it a lot harder to do that than to get hot for a couple of weeks, win a title and then fall apart? Look at the Rapids.
KREIS: Yeah, absolutely. You can say the year we won the Cup , we got very fortunate. But I would tell you that we trended very, very well at the end the season, and everything was in the right place.
STRAUS: People may have seen it as a fluke at the time, but you don’t hear much about that anymore because of how good you’ve been since.
KREIS: I guess my feeling on it is, if we put ourselves in a place to contend for a Cup that year, just looking at that one year, then we’ve been successful. What happens in the playoffs, as you’ve correctly identified, is a play here or a play there, one injury to a player or one red card to a player could mean the difference between winning the whole thing or going out in the first round.
For me, the playoffs, I’m with you. It’s all about the MLS Cup. It’s playoffs. This is an American sport. I’m with all that. But if coaches get fired or hired based on whether or not their team won the Cup that year, that’s ridiculous thinking. Ridiculous thinking. Dismantling teams because you didn’t, that’s ridiculous. We didn’t dismantle our team because we didn’t win the Cup, we had to make those trades because we didn’t have money!