Jason Kreis grew up in Omaha, Neb., surrounded by soccer. He and his three siblings all played soccer and, in fact, most of the kids in his neighborhood played soccer.
“It seemed like a daily occurrence we were playing soccer in my backyard,” Kreis said. “We had a decent sized yard for some small-sided games. On one side we had two trees that were the right distance apart for a goal and on the other side we had a split-rail fence with two rails that were the right size for a goal. So we made goals in the backyard and played.”
The Kreis household was also across the street from a soccer field. Not surprisingly, Kreis could frequently be seen on the field kicking into a net he hung on the goalposts.
Prior to his sophomore year of high school, Kreis’ family moved because his father took a job in Hammond, La. The family settled in Mandeville – approximately 30 minutes southeast from his father’s work and 30 minutes northwest of Slidell; a place they believed had the best soccer in the area.
“After being there for about six months, we played a team from Baton Rouge and it was clear to me that was where I needed to play,” Kreis said. “Baton Rouge was actually 30 minutes west of where my dad worked so we had to drive an hour each way to training. There was no lack of dedication on my parents’ part to make sure I did that every single day.”
The forward was offered a scholarship to Duke University where he was a three-time All-American from 1991-94. Following graduation, Kreis began his professional soccer career that was littered with firsts. He was officially part of Major League Soccer’s first season after being drafted by the Dallas Burn in the fifth round of the MLS Inaugural Draft in 1996. Kreis scored the franchise’s first ever goal.
Kreis became the league’s first American-born MVP after leading the league in goals (18) and points (51) in 1999. That campaign he also registered the league’s first 15-goal, 15-assist season.
On Nov. 17, 2004, Kreis was traded to Real Salt Lake, becoming the organization’s first player. Just like he did in Dallas, he was the first to find the back of the net in franchise history. Kreis was the league’s first player to score 100 goals and retired first in all-time goals scored.
Five games into the 2007 season Kreis was offered the club’s head coaching position during a dinner with owner David Checketts. He accepted, announced his retirement and became the youngest coach in the league.
“There was no time to change the team and no time to formulate plans or determine where our strengths and weaknesses were,” Kreis said. “It was just try to do the best you can. The general manager got fired around the same time, so I was working on my own to do trades, sign international players during the summer transfer window, to coach the team, to do everything. I got a lot of experience in a very short time.”
Real Salt Lake finished 6-15-9 that season. Kreis analyzed, planned and overhauled in preparation for his first full campaign at the helm. RSL qualified for the MLS playoffs in 2008.
Kreis, who led the club to the 2009 MLS Cup and a runner-up finish in 2013 over seven seasons, was named New York City FC head coach on Dec. 11, 2013.
Sporting Director Claudio Reyna said: “He was the perfect candidate. He’s done it with the teams he’s built and the type of soccer he likes to play fit in exactly with what we were looking for here at City Football Group as we began working to build this Club. More than anything it gives me great comfort knowing we have the right guy.”
Kreis’ efforts, hard work and determination were evident when he was growing up and building makeshift goals in his backyard for additional practice. It was evident when he set records in MLS as a player. It was evident when he turned Real Salt Lake from a struggling expansion franchise into a champion. It is visible with the way he has been instrumental in building New York City FC from scratch.
“My parents believed you could do anything if you worked hard enough for it,” Kreis said. “I think I was somewhat symbolic of that in my career. I wasn’t the most technically gifted, I wasn’t the fastest or the strongest. I got a lot out of my ability and a lot out of the fact that I was willing to work harder than anyone else on the field. I use that in coaching. I believe you can always get more out of everybody. That drives me to try to continually improve individuals and try to improve the team as a whole.”