Brian Dunseth is a straight shooter. In his series “So Seth Dunny” so far, he has talked in very direct language about what is lacking in Portland and been honest about the type of fandom one can expect from his fellow Angelinos in California, throwing in some marital advice for Cristiano Ronaldo in the process.
In today’s column, he turns his sights on the club where he now works, Real Salt Lake. Does he deliver the unadulterated gush of club PR?
Not Dunny, as he addresses the way the club uses the ‘them v us’ mentality to their own advantage, and admits that they cannot keep prime asset Jason Kreis when the Galaxy or USSF arrive with bags of money.
A further treat for RSL fans coming up. Look out for a big two part interview with club GM Garth Lagerwey in which he explores the club’s DNA, talks about what a general manager’s role is, and ducks a question artistically with a lawyer’s panache.
First So Seth Dunny on RSL’s “when it’s us versus them” mentality …
It starts with the approach of this organization. Dave Checketts had the vision to see that this Salt Lake valley was in need and could support a club with essentially no historical background of soccer — with the exception of local, low-level soccer teams — it’s a very interesting dynamic. Then you go to Jason Kreis, coming off the field as the captain and two days later, becoming the head coach.
From start to finish, this club is a very interesting approach and breakdown to what MLS is, what MLS could be, what MLS should be and what, ultimately, MLS wants to be.
I think this organization feels snubbed on a couple different levels, and I think you take it for what it is. I chalk it up to the growth. In New York, L.A., Seattle and Portland, you’ve got the big markets and the fanatical support.
When you want to turn on a game and showcase MLS at its highest light, that’s what you’re going to look at.
You’re going to look at essentially four to five markets. Salt Lake City is not going to be one of them and I think everybody understands that. They are looking at less national broadcasts than ever, which from the club’s perspective is a little more difficult to swallow being an MLS champion, and aesthetically some of the best soccer you’ll see in Major League Soccer.
I think that is the argument: you can show this incredible atmosphere but if it is terrible soccer, is that what you want to show?
Whereas here you have a team that routinely out possesses and outplays its opponent, and still is not shown on the NBCs and the ESPNs, The good news though, is because of the amount of money that they’ve committed to the broadcast funds, that our games are usually shown on MLS Live. Sometimes that can be just as important as being shown on a national broadcast. The trickle down effect is, from a national perspective, you are not going to get your product out there.
To play out Real Salt Lake’s perspective, if you look at the MLS All Star starting eleven, it lends some credence to their argument. It’s very very interesting.
You look at last year when Jamison Olave got injured in the All Star game.
He ran down Wayne Rooney and Wayne Rooney did not know where he was coming from. Olave ended up missing significant time with the team.
If you are Jason Kreis, I think privately you are probably ecstatic that you are not losing any players.*
From a public perspective it is hard to swallow, but I think this is the club that has always had the “us versus them” mentality.
It starts and ends with their ‘the team as the star’ mentality.
I call it the unintentional designated player in Alvaro Saborio based on his acquisition. RSL is a team that has levied out the salaries pretty much across the board, not too high, not too low. It is definitely a singular approach in terms of how they look and I think it lends to that “us versus them,” but I think it is something Trey (Trey Fitz-Gerald, club Media Relations Officer) loves to pump up and hold on to.
It is definitely fun to watch from a Twitter standpoint. Is it as bad as they make it to be? Maybe not, but it is definitely a serious talking point from the outside looking in.
I definitely get a kick out of watching all the go-betweens from the national media, the perspectives and opinions and how it’s played, how quickly the bear is poked–or the bear is doing the poking. The bear could be MLS, the bear could be Trey, the bear could be Jason Kreis, it could be Sigi, it could be anybody.
Jason Kreis only expects from his players what he would expect from himself. Even to this day, if you go out to the field about two hours before kickoff, he has his coaching staff and his players who have not made the substitutes list out running, and he is out running with them. If you look at the guy running next to you, and it’s your coach, what does that say? What does that say if the guy is going to bust his balls and he is going to hold you accountable, and he is going to ask you to do something that he is doing right next to you?
Jason was a competitor of mine when I played in Columbus and played New England, Miami; he was a teammate of mine when I played in Dallas and when I played here. I have watched his evolution as a coach. He will never ask anything that he would not be willing to do himself, and I think that workmen mentality, that type of expectation bleeds into this team. The guys who have not bought into the team at the start have not lasted more than a year. I think he has cultivated a locker room mentality that this is what we do and this is how we do it.
From being around this group of players as friends and acquaintances and covering them as players from a television perspective, I don’t think that any of them think that anyone is against them.
If you listen to their post-game quotes, usually it is we feel aggrieved, maybe one or two calls went against us that were wrong. Usually they are talking about goals rather than challenges. I think the main talking point now is about Javi just getting walloped up and down the field; that’s their biggest issue.
Jason’s talking points in the press are usually, if you are not reading between the lines, they are usually not about his group, they are about the other teams.
They are usually not about the referees. They respect the opponent that they are coming in to play, but they are also worried about what is going on in their own locker room, first and foremost.
I think this whole national media thing has taken on a life of its own and I think it plays into RSL’s favor more than anyone else because it draws awareness to the club.
Somehow, some way, you have to figure out how to poke the bear, which is the national media, to get them to attest to how well the team is playing.
But I think the team also knows that they don’t do themselves any justice when they’ve had the kind of results that they’ve had which haven’t played into their favor, and they kind of got away from what they were doing.
Jason is fantastic with the press; he is one of the few coaches that will actually give you a quote, that won’t give you coaches’ speak, that won’t twist your questions into something else. Jason will actually give you a thoughtful approach.
I think it hurts him at times, because those quotes that he is giving, when he is giving an honest opinion, are turned into sound bytes and are used against him at a national level sometimes. ‘He’s surly, he’s cocky, he thinks his group is better than everyone else’ when in actuality he’s only giving compliments about the opponent while saying that his team’s got to get it done better.
I don’t think Jason says what he says just to get quoted by the national media. Jason is a smart guy but I don’t think he is worried about the national media. I think Jason is worried about making sure that his group is smart enough to do things the right way, and if they’re not doing things the right way they won’t be playing.
In terms of stability, in terms of a group mentality, us versus them, I do see similarity with Sir Alex Ferguson. But with the exception of Kyle Beckerman, who utilizes the captain’s armband pretty well but still picks up a lot of yellow cards for just chirping with the referee, I don’t think you see this team surround referees the way you’d see an LA Galaxy surround referees the way they are this season.
I have said this with multiple players and multiple coaches–with Robin Frasier, with Miles Joseph, with C.J. Brown–I wish I had the opportunity to play under a guy like Jason because everything from start to finish is prepared.
Your training sessions, there’s a purpose, there’s a meaning behind everything you do, and it’s well thought out, planned and maintained. It was never like that when I played. Every single step of their training sessions is with a purpose, for preparation for their next opponent.
Nothing Dave Checketts and Garth Lagerwey and the rest can do is going to stop Jason from eventually having a lucrative offer from a wealthier club put in front of him. It is going to happen from one of the bigger name teams in MLS or it is going to happen from the federation standpoint. Jason in a very short amount of time has taken huge steps in his approach to coaching.
Every day he learns something new. I think he is the type of coach in his approach that people want to have around their organization. I would think if any team would go after Jason first it would be the LA Galaxy if it wasn’t U.S. Soccer. I think those two are the next step, but who knows? Depends on how much money a club is willing to spend.
This group here needs to win. This group will never achieve the legacy it deserves unless it wins a championship, and I think that championship has to be this year. 2009 is a long time ago in terms of trophies. With the age of this group and the direction–for the first time you saw slight tweaks to the group–each year the group gets older, each year this group gets closer to the end.
Between MLS Cup and CONCACAF, I think every team is judged by MLS. CONCACAF will raise the profile of MLS in a whole different genre. Most importantly it will mean that an MLS team has beaten multiple Mexican teams in Mexico. At the end of the day that is our proving ground. It’s not MLS. Our proving ground is beating teams from Mexico because with the amount of money that Mexican teams can throw around, their depth is untested.
We have had some great feelgood stories. But until we are consistently beating teams within Mexico–Seattle is great example. Great aggregate heading down there, and Santos puts it on. That’s the thing. It’s no longer ‘can we compete?’ Can we hang in and fight Mexican teams. That is the biggest stepping stone to me. Because if you win CONCACAF it means you’ve beaten multiple Mexican teams in Mexico.
I still don’t think winning CONCACAF could give RSL what New York and LA could get out of that and I think that’s just unfortunately the by-product of living underneath the mountains of Utah. You could create a fanaticism here that I think you could create in Portland or Seattle, but it would be even more unique because both of those markets have a history that this market does not have.
I think that’s going to be the most difficult thing for here. Kansas City did it with its fanatic fanbase.
Can Real Salt Lake do it? Kansas City only has baseball and football. Salt Lake only has basketball so I think it’s in the right direction. It’s just a matter of the consistency of the growth and the evolution of the game, and knowledge.
(*Kyle Beckerman was later added to the team)
In the next article Brian Dunseth explains why San Jose Earthquakes are doing so well and has some choice, very choice, words on what makes a harmonious locker room.