On Tuesday, Soccer America writer Paul Gardner called the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinal between Dallas and Salt Lake “gift-wrapped” in comparison to the other first round MLS playoff games. (LINK)
FC Dallas’ win and one-goal lead certainly make this Saturday’s match at Rio Tinto one to watch. But if you look at the history of these two franchises, there’s even more drama to be had.
Jason Kreis – Kreis played 14 years in Texas as a member of the Burn and FC Dallas. He was the first U.S. born MLS MVP (1999), led the Burn to the Western Conference Championship game and set the MLS all-time scoring record as a member of the Dallas side (89 goals). He is one of the most decorated players in the history of the Dallas franchise – and, even now, you’ll find (deservedly) a larger-than-life banner of Kreis on the outside of Pizza Hut Park. [SEE THE BANNER]
Kreis departed Dallas in 2004 after he was not protected in the expansion draft, becoming the first player in RSL team history. He played a little more than two seasons before making the jump from playing to coaching, becoming the youngest coach in MLS history (34 years and 127 days) and, in 2009, the youngest to win the MLS Cup.
Since taking the reins, Kreis’ record against his former club is 4-5-0, including an unimpressive 0-4 at Pizza Hut Park.
“Tactically, he was pretty astute,” said Kreis’ former head coach, John Ellinger, now an assistant in Dallas. “He learned a lot in that first year and a half to get them to where they could win the MLS Cup.”
But what of his time in Dallas and its abrupt end? Does that fuel his desire to win against his former side?
“I don't believe Jason has harsh feeling about Dallas, but I do know that he is more motivated than usual against his former team,” Bobby Rhine, former teammate and current FCD TV Analyst, said. “Jason is one of the most intense competitors I've known, and Saturday he'll have his team inspired."
John Ellinger – Ellinger, now in his second full season as an assistant under head coach Schellas Hyndman, was the first head coach for Real Salt Lake.
Ellinger coached Kreis for two seasons, and it was Kreis who filled Ellinger’s post after he left to become the club’s technical director.
Ellinger said he “still carries emotional ties” from his tenure in Salt Lake, and admits there’s extra motivation when FC Dallas takes the field against the team he helped build.
“I want to win. Every time."
Jeff Cunningham – JC9famously spent two years in Salt Lake playing alongside Kreis. Cunningham’s 2006 campaign for RSL netted 16 goals, earning him his first MLS Golden Boot. But in May of the following season, on the heels of Kreis’ promotion to head coach, Cunningham was traded to Toronto. He eventually landed in Dallas in 2008.
“Jeff is at his best when he plays with a chip on his shoulder,” Rhine said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the chance to beat RSL gets him going.”
Garth Lagerway – Lagerway, Salt Lake’s current GM, had a two-year stint with the Burn (97-98), including the 1997 run when Dallas won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Jeff Cassar, Miles Joseph & Kevin Harter – When Kreis was hired on in Salt Lake, he did what any coach would do – assemble a staff of “his guys.” Those “guys” included former Dallas players Jeff Cassar and Miles Joseph, who between them logged 42 appearances for the franchise. He also brought along Kevin Harter, Dallas’ original equipment manager.
Atiba Harris – Dallas acquired Atiba Harris in May 2010 in a trade with Chivas USA. But before that, Harris played two seasons in Salt Lake (2006-07). The versatile utility midfielder will miss Saturday’s game vs. RSL after earning a red card in the first leg – yet another example of the high tensions between the two teams.
Home field advantage – Real Salt Lake has never won a game at Pizza Hut Park. Following last Saturday’s 2-1 loss, the defending champion is now 0-7 all-time in Dallas. But at Rio Tinto, it’s a different story. In fact, Dallas has never won a game there (0-3), where RSL is 21-1-10 all-time.
Saturday night’s outcome will write another dramatic chapter in the history between the two sides – the only thing left to be determined is who will emerge victorious.