When it comes to international sports, the World Cup reigns supreme. Watch parties for everyone’s favorite teams are happening all over the world, and it’s no different in the United States. Ratings for the recent USA vs Ghana match set records here in the states, making it the highest rated soccer game on record, drawing over 11 million viewers.
The U.S. Men’s National Team played well, partly because of the play of Real Salt Lake’s midfielder Kyle Beckerman. Because of the Utah connection, and the effect the World Cup may have on soccer in America generally, <a href=”http://610kvnu.com/assets/podcaster/321/2014_06_19_321_23360_2867.mp3″ target=”_blank”>I talk to Real Salt Lake head coach Jeff Cassar</a> in this week’s edition of Off-Season Drills.
Q: Not only are you tied in with soccer, but you have some of your players on the Men’s National Team. Kyle Beckerman played a key role with their win over Ghana, playing every minute. What was it like for you as his head coach to watch his performance?
Cassar: I felt really proud, for the coaches, for the team, for the club and for the state of Utah to have one of their own representing their country in the World Cup. It was a special moment.
Q: Real Salt Lake goal keeper Nick Rimondo is also on the team. Do you expect to see him get some action?
Cassar: I think it will probably be tough to see Nick in these matches. I know he’s preparing as if he’s going to get into the match. Obviously when you have Tim Howard and Brad Guzan in front of you it’s always tough. But I know that Nick is preparing as if he gets the call, he’ll be ready.
Q: Nick is a few months shy of being the oldest on the team, does that play into his advantage with that experience or is it more of a young man’s game?
Cassar: I think it’s really just about the players who take care of their bodies. You are seeing younger players play a bigger role with their teams, but you’re also seeing older veterans that are really taking care of their bodies and have longer careers. As long as Nick and Kyle stay healthy they can play for a long, long time.
Q: You like to use the 4-4-2 diamond formation at RSL and the Men’s National Team is using that formation as well. Do you see that formation having larger acceptance throughout Major League Soccer and soccer in general? How does that play into what you are doing and what the Men’s National Team is doing?
Cassar: I think it’s all about personnel. It’s about the players that you have. The players that we have on Real Salt Lake it really fits them well. We don’t have too many wide midfielders or wide wingers on our team. The diamond formation works perfect for us. You’re starting to see it work very well for the Men’s National Team as well with two-way midfielders in Jermaine Jones, (Alejandro) Bedoya and Michael Bradley. Obviously Kyle is arguably the best holding midfielder in our country, in MLS. So this system works out very well for them.
Q: How has MLS grown in comparison to international play?
Cassar: As MLS gets stronger and stronger every year, with better quality matches, with international competitions like CONCACAF and international friendly games and doing well, it has obviously helped out our national team. I don’t know the exact number that were part of the roster when we qualified to get into the World Cup, but I know it was an extremely high number of MLS players and that has translated into the World Cup roster. It’s a credit to our league without a doubt.
Q: The ratings in America are off to a great start for the World Cup, how do you think that will translate once World Cup is over to Real Salt Lake and MLS through the end of the season?
Cassar: I think it’s great, especially when the US team is having success and these players are being noticed by the country and the world. Then the beautiful thing is these players get to come back and be seen by the home town crowds and the visiting crowds. I think it will just keep creating more and more energy and buzz for our league and, like you said, the ratings were fantastic for the game against Ghana. That’s huge for the growth of our league to get those viewers on television and getting fans in the stands because that creates a lot of money.
Q: How would you evaluate your season so far now that you are near the halfway point?
Cassar: It’s been a little bit of good, a little bit of bad, a little bit of average. I’m really please with how we’re starting games, we’re putting ourselves in a great position to win games. We haven’t been able to hold on to those leads as much as we’ve wanted to. But I’d sure rather be in the lead than coming back all the time from a deficit. So we definitely have things to work on. We’ve had to deal with lots of injuries, international call ups, injuries and call ups at the same time. We’ve had to deal with a lot of off-the-field issues. I think the second half of the season we’re going to have a really nice push, especially once we get Kyle and Nick back and everyone operating together.
Q: You have players gone to international play, but you have a game coming up on June 28th vs Chivas USA.
Cassar: It’s a big game for us. Obviously it’s a Western Conference opponent, an opponent that’s a little bit lower on the table than us. It’s a game where we’re going to look to go in there and get three points and really get back on track. The guys have had this week off. Everyone is kind of recharging mentally and physically. We plan on getting started on Saturday of this week again and come back re-energized and refocused. There are things we definitely need to improve on and we’ll be working on that.
Q: Real Salt Lake has been a successful program and with that they have enjoyed a growing and loyal fan base. What has that meant to your program?
Cassar: This is my eighth season with the team, seven as an assistant coach. Just to see it grow, the energy grow, the passion grow, the knowledge of the game grow, the fans know when we’re playing good and playing bad now. They let it be heard and that’s fantastic. It’s energy for us, it’s energy for the players. I know we had a loss in our last home game, but normally it’s a fortress for us here at Rio Tinto and we’re going to work to get that back because the fans deserve it. They’ve been fantastic this year.
Q: Are you having any special watch parties for the World Cup?
Cassar: I’ve had the chance to become a part owner of brick oven pizza place called Oak Woodfired Kitchen here in Draper. We’ve been having watch parties there. We obviously had a big watch party for the USA game. So it’s kind of become home base for myself and the staff and some of the players who have remained in town. It’s just a small little place with fantastic food where hopefully our fans feel comfortable coming and hanging out.