Reality Check | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly
Support the Free Press | Facts matter. Truth matters. Journalism matters
Salt Lake City Weekly has been Utah's source of independent news and in-depth journalism since 1984. Donate today to ensure the legacy continues.

News » Cover Story

Reality Check

Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis and his team find their passion in Argentina.



Page 3 of 3

Lo apretan bien,” Juan Carlos Leguizamon says. They pressure them well.

The veteran goalkeeper, long since retired, is talking about Argentine third-division soccer team, Central Cordoba. His son, Juan Cruz Leguizamon, is Central´s reserve goalkeeper. They are playing RSL in a friendly 60-minute scrimmage on a Tuesday afternoon in a dilapidated stadium on the outskirts of Rosario. If the Jockey Club was unimpressive, the 102 year-old club, Central Cordoba, is, at least in the first half, a more combative if unpredictable opponent.

The only witnesses to the match are two fans sitting in the stand’s rusting seats under the scalding sun. No one much comes to see the club anymore, Leguizamon says. “It’s a humble institution with no acquisitive power,” he continues. Central narrowly escaped having its property auctioned off last year to pay debts to former players. The paint-peeled walls, tired turf, and dejected atmosphere that hangs over the stadium reflect the price of failure, of season after season of losing in the Argentine leagues.

Kreis watches intently from the sideline as his reserves struggle to find a rhythm against Central’s substitutes and reserves mix. Most of the players Central fields haven´t played a professional game since the end of last year. They bring an almost ferocious energy against the neat midfield buildups RSL endeavors to convert into drives to Central´s box.

“Central have ground los yanquis to a halt,” Leguizamon says approvingly about Central’s scrappy performance. Central´s players hunger to the point of desperation for their coach to notice them, to give them a game.

At halftime, Kreis tells his frustrated players to be patient, to make Central come out of its box. His advice seems to work, aided by some changes in Central´s lineup. In the second half, Central Cordoba fields three new players, including an inexperienced goalkeeper who runs out from the goal mouth late in the game to intercept Real defender Dusty Kirby. This offers Real midfielder Andy Williams an easy rebound shot into the net. Two minutes later, Real forward Yura Movsisyan sneaks the ball by several defenders and shoots into the right edge of the goal.

Kreis is pleased with the result. But for Central Cordoba coach Miguel Angel Ibanez, burdened though he may be with his own problems, he feels Kreis faces a tall order. “It´s difficult what he has to do,” he says in Spanish. “It takes time to assemble a team out of new players, for them to get to know each other, how each plays. It´s going to be hard.”

Whether Ibanez was right or not, Kreis would find out, along with 60 LDS missionaries who dragged their folding chairs out two days later for the match against Rosario Central.

“Let’s wake up, boys” one of the RSL players calls out as the second half against Rosario Central starts. Kreis says that the last game of a foreign tour, players often have one mental foot on the plane. But so far, RSL has revealed a dogged determination to overcome its opponents.

Again RSL focuses on low passes, while the Argentines favor long, high, diagonal passes from one flank to the other. Five minutes into the second half, RSL attackers scramble in front of Rosario’s net, defender Nat Borchers back-heeling a goal from a pass from forward Yura Movsisyan.

As the Rosario goalkeeper picks up the ball, he says, in disbelief, “Hacen un gol este?” This team scored?

The game turns argumentative with Beckerman at the heart of a pushing match that ends up requiring coaching staff from both sides to separate the teams.

“Dude, no pasa nada,” a missionary shouts out. Translation: nothing happened.

If Rosario Central underestimated the U.S. visitors, the players’ surprise does not hold them back from Rosario’s star Gonzalo Belloso dispatching an easy penalty.

Ex-Columbian league Real defender Jamison Olave shouts out “Toque, toque, toque,” in Spanish, encouraging his team to pass the ball more. Beckerman takes a rebound of a shot by midfielder Williams and blasts it into the back of the net.

Tempers continue to flare. When several RSL players get into a tangle with Rosario’s Belloso, a female missionary calls out, “Hands off the grandpa-dude!” Whether 35-year-old Belloso would have appreciated such support, if he’d understood it, is debatable. Nevertheless, Belloso, in the last minutes of the match brings it to a 2-2 draw with a perfectly executed header right in front of the goal mouth.

Rosario-based soccer journalist Miguel Martinez had seen RSL play Newell’s and is in attendance at the Rosario match. He admires Real. “They have a very good control of the ball,” he says. “Very tidy, good low touches, they work together well.”

After the match, RSL players cross the pitch and applaud the missionaries. The team mingle with their young fans. One of the Argentine players asks if it is true that you can’t touch a Mormon woman. Later another Argentine player makes his teammates laugh as he pretends to put his arm around a female missionary fan for a photo. He mimicks her saying in a high falsetto, “No, no, no, you can’t touch me.”

Back on the team bus, Kreis says, “I feel like they’re together.” He seems relaxed, even as he does reserved. “This is the first time our club had a real plan, a real direction,” he says.

If “winning changes everything,” as RSL marketing chief Trey Fitzgerald had said back in Salt Lake City before the tour began, so, as former coach Ellinger knows, does losing. “John´s biggest fault is he couldn´t motherfuck people, couldn´t be a hammer,” Fitzgerald says. “He was more a father figure to the team.”

Kreis says he is neither a father figure nor the distant businessman-model he at times encountered as a player. Rather, he seems a coach intent on writing his own rule book. If there is one constant in the business of coaching, Kreis says, it´s that, sooner or later, you always end up being fired.

Kreis has yet to settle on a captain. Indeed, choosing a captain conflicts with the message he wants to put out to his team that everybody can be a leader. “He wants the guys to care about each other,” defender Chris Wingert says, “and they do.”

RSL left Rosario undefeated but also without a win against the two heavyweights, Newell’s and Rosario Central. Kreis looks out the bus window a moment at Rosario’s sprawling industrial suburbs, then says, almost wistfully, that in the last moments of the game against Rosario Central, “It would have been nice to have kept out that second goal.”

From the back of the bus comes singing in Spanish. “Daah-leee, daah-leee, daah-leee, Ray-al Sal Laiiik,” chorus the Argentine players several times.

“What are they singing?” Kreis asks. “About Newell’s Old Boys?”

In fact, the Argentines, in festive mood, are singing “Go for it, go for it,” for their own team.

Someone shouts out in English to join in. The American players, perhaps, like their coach not understanding what it is they are being asked to chant, remain silent.

For Kreis, the true test of his team will be not only on the Rice Eccles pitch against Chicago Fire but in the locker room afterward. He wants to look his players in the eyes and see if they are walking away or mumbling to themselves like players who don’t care. Or, depending on the result, if in their eyes, he finds bitter disappointment or boisterous happiness. Either way, if he finds emotional commitment to the team, then he will surely be content.

Then again, given how hard he’s worked to craft a team that beats to a single collective pulse, perhaps what he might most hope for when he pushes open the locker room doors is to be greeted with the full-throated roar of 29 voices chanting in Spanish: “Daaah-leee, daaah-leee, daaah-leee Ray-al Sal Laiiik.”