Barca style the model for Real Salt Lake

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.

TOTAL FOOTBALL

"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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