SANDY — After three full seasons as head coach of Real Salt Lake, Jeff Cassar has been removed from his position within the organization just three games into the 2017 season.
The Major League Soccer club announced Monday afternoon it had dismissed the former RSL goalkeeper coach who helped the team to its 2009 MLS Cup title, among other accolades.
RSL goalkeeper coach Daryl Shore will serve the club as interim head coach, and the club has already begun the search for a new coach, general manager Craig Waibel told reporters during a conference call.
While RSL’s 0-2-1 start to the 2017 season certainly didn’t help Cassar’s case, Waibel wanted to make clear the timing of the team’s announcement was related to a “cumulative” series of events and benchmarks, though he didn’t go into specifics.
The club is in the midst of a 10-game winless streak that dates back to August of last season.
“We felt very strongly that the end of last year — the results over the course of three seasons — we felt two years in the playoffs deserved a chance,” Waibel said during a media conference call. “But the important thing to remember is we’ve been in since Jan. 20 and evaluating since day one. The three games played aren’t the only thing taken into consideration.
“Inside the building, in our continued observation since Jan. 20, the decision is based on the progress of the group and the team. Ultimately the final decision was made today.”
Cassar’s tenure at RSL closes with a record of 38-37-30 as a head coach, as well as a decade on the bench — helping RSL win the 2009 MLS Cup title as goalkeeper coach and former coach Jason Kreis’ right-hand man.
“Jeff is a consummate professional,” Waibel said. “He’s a gentleman, and it was a very upfront conversation. He and I have known each other very closely for the better part of three years, and he’s a gentleman. He’s one of my closest friends, and while it was a difficult conversation, it was very respectful both ways.”
Waibel said RSL has already reached out to candidates “within the organization,” though he did not name individuals specifically, and plans to reach out to at least two to three already identified targets in the next 24 hours. Any coaching candidate currently employed by another MLS club will be subject to league protocol.
“The sense of urgency to move forward is definitely something we are taking into consideration,” Waibel said. “We will work diligently over the next couple of weeks, and hopefully the process is shorter. We have no intention of dragging this out.”
While Waibel preferred not to specifically address qualities of the next full-time head coach, he mentioned the team will actively look for someone who shares RSL’s vision and relates to the team’s fans.
“We will look for someone with shared values and shared vision with where we’ve aligned ourselves as an organization and how we are building this roster,” Waibel said. “Not every coach sees every roster the same way, and so I won’t share all of the details. But it’s definitely going to be someone that aligns very quickly without vision.
“Most importantly, they need to identify with our fan base and what is important with our organization and our fan base.”
Jeff is a consummate professional. He’s a gentleman, and it was a very upfront conversation. He and I have known each other very closely for the better part of three years, and he’s a gentleman. He’s one of my closest friends, and while it was a difficult conversation, it was very respectful both ways.
–RSL general manager Craig Waibel
RSL’s other assistant coaches will remain on staff under the current interim administration.
But Cassar, whose first experience as an MLS head coach came when Jason Kreis left Salt Lake for New York City FC, was let go just three games into the 2017 season when RSL started 0-1-2 and was outscored 4-1 against Toronto FC, Chicago Fire and L.A. Galaxy.
“We want to thank Jeff for his many contributions to the success of Real Salt Lake over the past decade, including our championship run in 2009,” RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen said in a statement. “Jeff has always handled himself with class and dignity and represented the organization and community extremely well.
“We wish Jeff and his family much success in their future endeavors.”
Cassar becomes the fourth major player to leave the club since Hansen purchased RSL from previous owner Dave Checketts, joining Kreis (currently with Orlando City FC), former general manager Garth Lagerwey (currently with Seattle Sounders FC) and former club president Bill Manning (currently with Toronto FC). Such high-profile departures add to an extensive list of player departures, notably midfielder Javier Morales to FC Dallas this past offseason.
Cassar signed a three-year contract in the offseason, but the club held the right to options for the second and third seasons.
“Jeff deserves the 2017 year to continue our club’s competitive growth,” Hansen said at the time. “His body of work this year — despite the team’s late-season slide — and the overwhelming endorsement of him by numerous voices in our locker room confirm my belief that his continuity and our foundation set up Claret-and-Cobalt success in an extremely competitive Western Conference next season.”