Salt Lake City, UT (Sports Network) -
Just weeks after trading his jersey for a suit last year, new Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis started shipping stars out of Salt Lake City as part of his "long-term plan."
At the time, it was obvious the former Major League Soccer Most Valuable Player was giving up on the present - which wasn't going that well anyway - to gamble on the future.
Jackpot? Well, 16 games into his first full year as coach, Kreis has Real Salt Lake just one point out of first place, albeit in the weak Western Conference.
Real Salt Lake definitely hasn't fulfilled Kreis' long-range plan of building a great team, but it has become very obvious the player-turned-coach has a good idea of how to construct a roster.
Of the 11 current players who have appeared in more than 10 games this season, nine have been acquired since Kreis became head coach.
Jason Kreis' squad is just one point out of first place in the Western Conference.
Think anybody in Salt Lake misses Jeff Cunningham? How about Chris Klein?
Certainly not Kreis.
Cunningham, who led MLS with 16 goals and also had 11 assists in 2006, was sent packing by Kreis just weeks after he took the helm last season. Klein, a four-time MLS All-Star, was traded less than a month later.
Although those moves signaled the end of Real Salt Lake's 2007 season, did it really matter? Real was winless in its first 11 matches (0-5-6) with those guys playing a large role. Kreis knew waiting until the end of the season would have wasted too much time.
So, he turned Cunningham into Alecko Eskandarian (who was later traded) and a first-round draft pick in a trade with Toronto FC and Klein into Robbie Findley and Nathan Sturgis in a trade with Los Angeles.
Findley has been the prize addition from those trades, contributing nine goals and two assists in 22 games (16 starts). The forward has played in all 16 matches so far this year, and has made 10 starts.
But Kreis, who retired as the all-time leading scorer in MLS, was just getting warmed up.
He snagged defender Chris Wingert from Colorado on July 13 for a pair of draft picks, and added U.S. national team midfielder Kyle Beckerman three days later in another trade with the Rapids for Mehdi Ballouchy.
Wingert and Beckerman are two of just three RSL players who have started all 16 games this season.
Kreis even navigated around a big loss in late July, when American phenom Freddy Adu left the club to join Portugal's Benfica.
He went south - a few thousand miles - for reinforcements this time, bringing a trio of Argentine players to Real. Midfielder Javier Morales, who has 15 starts this season, has been the most dynamic. He has two goals and a team- high seven assists so far.
Defender Matias Mantilla (seven games, six starts) and forward Fabian Espindola (eight games, six starts) are the other Argentine players. Both opened the year in the starting lineup, but have missed time with injuries.
Yura Movsisyan was the final acquisition last season in a deal with Kansas City but he too has been limited this season because of injury.
Still, all of Kreis' changes helped Real Salt Lake close last year 4-4-3 in its final 11 games and avoid having the worst record in the league.
Kreis wasn't finished though, and continued adding his flavor to the team this offseason, adding six more players who have been key contributors.
Forward Kenny Deuchar (16 games, 15 starts), nicknamed "Dr. Goals," transferred from Scottish Premier League club Gretna. He scored 72 goals in 95 appearances for Gretna from 2004-08 and has two so far for RSL.
Defender Nate Borchers (16 games, 16 starts) was a lucky addition after RSL won the MLS Player Allocation Lottery to sign him from Norway's Odd Grenland. The ex-MLS player, he was with Colorado from 2003-05, has started every game in his return to the league.
Midfielder Dema Kovalenko (15 games, 14 starts) was acquired via trade with New York for a 2010 MLS SuperDraft selection. Defender Jamison Olave (11 games, 11 starts) was acquired on loan from Colombia's Deportivo Cali and U.S. defender Ian Joy (seven games, seven starts) left Germany and was starting until he was injured.
The last of the nine additions Kreis made that has appeared in more than 10 games is Tony Beltran, a first-round pick in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft. He has 12 appearances and nine starts.
The only holdovers from the pre-Kreis era who are playing major roles this year are midfielder Andy Williams (14 games, nine starts) and goalie Nick Rimando (16 games, 16 starts). Two people he played with before retiring as a player to become coach.
While Real Salt Lake's record may not be great at 5-6-5, it's a huge turnaround from last year's horrible start. And considering all the changes, it was bound to take a little while before the team came together.
Real Salt Lake is 3-1-3 in its last seven matches - the lone loss was on an own goal against Kansas City - and on the heels of Western co-leaders Los Angeles and Chivas USA.
RSL even had a chance to move into in its last game but tied two-time defending MLS champion Houston, 0-0.
"That chance," Kreis assured, "is going to come again."
Possibly even this weekend when Real Salt Lake hosts Columbus. Chivas and Los Angeles play Thursday, and if the teams draw, RSL would be in position to climb into first with a win Saturday night.
With an unbeaten record (4-0-5) at home - Toronto FC is the only other unbeaten at home - all Real Salt Lake needs to do over the rest of the season is find a way to win on the road and Kreis' "long-term plan" could be accomplished rather quickly.
"I believed for a long time, and I think everybody in that locker room believed and has believed for a long time," Kreis said, "and I think we're beginning to see the fruit from all of our work and talk."