MIAMI - Most of the money and attention
in the growth of football in the United States has been focused on
Los Angeles and New York but the unlikely setting of Utah is
where the game has developed in the most attractive way.
Real Salt Lake, founded just seven years ago, coached by a
38-year-old from Nebraska and playing in the suburb of Sandy,
made their mark by winning the MLS Cup in 2009.
This year they have reached the last four of the CONCACAF
Champions League which is the premier club competition for
North, Central America and the Caribbean.
They are winning admirers, such as ex-France striker Thierry
Henry, as much for the way they play as for their results. Real
have adopted the Barcelona style of aesthetically-pleasing
football based on a short passing game and swift movement.
"I believe in football being played that way, it's the way I
like to watch it, it's what attracts me about the game when
teams play a possession-orientated style, " head coach Jason
Kreis told Reuters in an interview.
"It is something that I wanted to do but it is something
also where you need the right tools to be able to do it.
"It has taken some time for us to get a critical mass - the
right number of players that are technically gifted enough and
smart enough to play the way that we are trying to," he said.
While Kreis has never played or coached outside the U.S.,
his influence is drawn mainly from Spain and, despite his club's
name reflecting a cooperation deal with Real Madrid it is their
Catalan rivals' way of playing that has made its mark in Utah.
"Barcelona have probably been playing that way since (Johan)
Cruyff," he said, referring to the Spanish club's former Dutch
forward and manager who brought 'Total Football' to the Catalan
side from his days with the national team.
"I think we try in a lot of ways emulate that style, I think
it would be very fair to say that we have Latin American players
on our team who like to play that style and it is more a natural
fit," added Kreis.
It is an approach which stands in contrast to the perhaps
rather dated view of MLS as a physical league with teams who
prefer to play a direct form of the game.
"I hope it continues to change in that direction," said
Kreis. "I always think it is going to be a physical league
because we have very good athletes, we have strong, big guys
that can get the job done and can stretch their bodies maybe a
bit further than in other places.
"But I would also say that some of the physical side of our
game is because we haven't raised our technical ability as high
as it probably should be - the average player in our league is
definitely not as technically gifted as the average player in
the Premier League or La Liga or the Bundesliga.
"Because of that we have had a lot of poor first touches and
poor tactical decisions on the ball which means that defenders
can really jump into things," he said.
Salt Lake's approach is based around the cool play of deep
lying midfielder Kyle Beckerman whose astute positional sense,
vision and composed passing ensure that Real start moves on the
floor from the back.
Kreis acknowledged that a direct approach can bring results
but would like to see more teams in MLS play a short pass and
move style. He believes that would require a major change in the
way young players are developed in North America.
"There are lots of ways to look at football (it's) just that
(the direct style) isn't particularly mine. If all football was to
be the way I like to see it I think it would have to start well
before college football. We need to start implementing that in our
youth teams and our youth national teams," he said.
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