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Brad Rock: Real Salt Lake has a warm, fuzzy coach

SANDY — The only time Jason Kreis cried was at the end, after Real Salt Lake had narrowly missed winning another MLS Cup, and he knew he was leaving.

Jeff Cassar, on the other hand, was choking up on Thursday before he had left his house.

Welcome to the tender side of RSL.

“Jeff is much more affable; he cracks a joke more, and he shows his emotions on his sleeve,” said team president Bill Manning. “Jason never would have done that.”

Imagine that — a coach you want to hug.

RSL introduced its new head coach at snowy Rio Tinto, and it appears this will be a feelings-on-the-shirtsleeves team. Kreis had emotion, too, but when the media was around it was on simmer. Even when he publicly criticized his team, which wasn’t often, he did so in a distant monotone.

Real management says Kreis was great to work with, which was true if you were in his inner circle. Cassar just has a bigger circle, which apparently extends to nearly everyone. On Thursday he tearfully thanked his wife, as well as owner Dell Loy Hansen, the players, management, fans and even the media.

“Because you’re what’s driving this team,” Cassar said.

He forgot to thank the parking staff, but it was his first day.

He’ll get around to it.

“Every time I think about it,” Cassar said, “I really start to cry, because there are so few opportunities in life and Dell Loy, thank you. Thank you.”

There was a lot of talk about RSL being a “family” on Thursday and it was hard to disagree. General manager Garth Lagerwey and Cassar played together in Miami, along with current RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando and midfielder Kyle Beckerman. Lagerwey and Cassar also were together a season in Dallas.

“I might not have had a pro career if Jeff hadn’t been kind enough to dislocate his elbow in 1997 and then tear his ACL in 1999 in Miami, so as teammates I think we were both healthy on the same team for just one year,” Lagerwey said.

In a sense, Cassar’s appointment is similar to Tyrone Corbin replacing Jerry Sloan with the Jazz. Kreis and Sloan each took their teams to the league finals twice. Both were disciplinarians, and were replaced by an assistant coach.

But that’s where the comparisons end, mainly because Corbin inherited a team in flux, living out the last days of a long run of prosperity. Cassar is inheriting the MLS Cup runner-up.

Hansen said the Salt Lake of 2014 will “never have had less change in RSL’s history.”

Corbin has a team of kids, trying to get respect, while RSL has a side combining national team players and MLS All-Stars with intriguing young talent.

So naturally on Thursday, no one was lowering expectations. Now that Real has one MLS Cup and a Cup final to its credit, management says it isn’t taking a breather.

“Literally nothing changes,” Lagerwey said of transitioning to Cassar. “We’ve been working together every day for six years, so transition on the management side was as easy as you can possibly have.”

It apparently went smoothly on the player side, too. When polled, players overwhelmingly recommended Cassar.

Hansen said he expects the team’s success to continue for at least a decade, thanks to its young players and its new coach. But unlike the Jazz, this isn’t meant to be long-term rebuilding.

“We want to win now,” said Manning.

So the new era of RSL is underway.

Same players, different boss.

“You never really know; in two years time we’ll be able to tell,” Manning said. “But I think we’re all very comfortable with the choice.”

The club waved good-bye to the guy with the hard stare and selected someone as likable as a golden retriever.

That will go a long way.

At least until the March 8 opener at Los Angeles.

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