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Orlando’s hiring of Jason Kreis an odd but potentially rewarding decision

While not an obvious match, Jason Kreis could do great things in Orlando

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Jason Kreis sat out the 2014 season, seemed mostly miserable in 2015 and has been out of a job since being fired by New York City FC last November. It shouldn’t come as a shock that he was eager to get back to work. The coach’s destination, however, seems slightly surprising at first glance.

It was easier to imagine that Orlando City would look south or east for its new manager. The owner, CEO and captain are Brazilian, and the club has made several notable front office moves since joining MLS that indicate a preference for Portuguese. City’s lack of patience with former coach Adrian Heath (dismissed last week), along with its largesse (privately funded stadiums and Kaká don’t come cheap), ambition and foreign ownership suggest it has far more in common with NYCFC than Real Salt Lake, where Kreis made his managerial name.

Yet there was Orlando owner Flávio Augusto da Silva in Tuesday’s press release announcing Kreis’s hiring, referencing their meeting in Portugal and his belief that the 43-year-old American “can bring us to the next level of development as a club—a higher level.”

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​Kreis is a good coach who simply had a bad year. Before taking a chance with an expansion team in New York, he guided modest RSL to an MLS title and then to within a whisker of a second. He nearly won the CONCACAF Champions League. There never was a question he’d get another job eventually.

Still, Kreis and Orlando aren’t an obvious match. The former forward is a meticulous manager who desires considerable control. He’s about system and synergy, not star power. Coaches like Kreis need the promise of stability from those above and a rare combination of talent and deference from those below. Clearly that wasn’t available at Yankee Stadium. And before Tuesday, few would have gone searching for it in Central Florida.

This is why, despite the potential pitfalls, Orlando makes sense for Kreis. As much as he must have wanted to return to the field, he easily could have prioritized his own security and waited for safer harbor. The Houston Dynamo haven’t appointed a permanent manager since Owen Coyle’s departure. Sigi Schmid may decide to head back to Los Angeles, either to coach or to retire, or the struggling Sounders may make the decision for him. That club is run by Kreis’s former RSL colleague and Duke University roommate, Garth Lagerwey. Philadelphia’s Jim Curtin and Colorado’s Pablo Mastroeni are safe for now, but churn in the coaching ranks is guaranteed. Five jobs have changed hands since the start of 2015.

Instead, Kreis jumped at a risky yet potentially rewarding second chance. He’s nothing if not ambitious and has always yearned to reach the heights as a coach he failed to attain as a player (an MLS MVP who didn’t win a league title or play in a major tournament with the national team). Playing it safe will not help him get there. It would prove nothing. Orlando offers Kreis another chance to demonstrate that he can succeed in a pressure-packed environment. It offers an opportunity to answer any questions raised by his season at NYCFC.

Upstairs, Kreis has a boss who wants to win now. Da Silva has global ambition and his own ideas about club identity. In the dressing room, Kreis will have to earn the respect of Kaká, Julio Baptista and the next big City signing. The team was the star in Salt Lake City, but that isn’t the case everywhere. Coaches who reach the pinnacle adapt to new cultures and strong personalities.

“We are very excited that we have got our man. Jason is a progressive thinking and highly ambitious coach, who is very familiar with success in MLS,” Orlando City president Phil Rawlins said Tuesday. “Jason’s playing philosophy is the same attack-minded, possession-oriented style of soccer that we have built our club around. He is a winner who checks all the boxes for us.”

Credit to Kreis for betting on himself in Orlando, and credit to the club for going with a coach who understands a league it has yet to master. Both sides have a lot riding on this decision. Kreis will be formally introduced at a Wednesday press conference. City (4-5-10), which is one point out of the sixth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, visits the Columbus Crew on Saturday.