The path leading up to former Chicago Fire defender C.J. Brown's MLS coaching debut came together quickly.
Following his retirement announcement toward the end of the 2010 season, Brown made it clear that he wanted to move on to the coaching side. Within a matter of months, he became an assistant coach for Real Salt Lake -- the team that ousted Chicago from the 2009 playoffs and went on to win its first MLS Cup under head coach Jason Kreis.
"This team has already been going in the right direction," said Brown, whose RSL team faces the Fire this Wednesday at Toyota Park. "By me coming in, I'm not making them better. It's my job to keep something flowing. Jason and the entire program have done it the right way. Our back line is a pretty comfortable group, working with each other."
Brown attended the MLS Combine earlier this year, and his intentions were to possibly start his coaching career alongside former Fire goalkeeper coach Daryl Shore, the head coach of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the North American Soccer League.
Plans changed in a flash.
"I was going to go there and look at the [Fort Lauderdale] program because Daryl was looking for an assistant," Brown said. "I attended the combine and ran into the Real Salt Lake coaching staff, and they asked what I was doing there."
Brown and the RSL folks started talking, and they flew him in for the 2011 MLS SuperDraft.
"A week and a half later, they called me with an offer," Brown said.
Since joining Salt Lake (6-3-4) in mid-January, Brown has helped guide an RSL defense that has allowed fewer goals than any MLS team (8). Salt Lake's plus-7 goal differential ranks third heading into this week. And the spotlight also shone on Salt Lake for the better part of two months as RSL's CONCACAF Champions League run moved all the way to the final against Monterrey.
"These guys were working for this for the last year, building themselves for this," Brown said. "I popped into the end of it and walked into a great role. They worked hard in the offseason -- the best shape I've ever seen."
Brown spent all 13 of his MLS seasons with the Fire, and moving into the coaching realm has given him a different perspective.
"I'm so used to, as a player, going out and trying to make it happen myself," Brown said. "As a coach, I tell the guys what will happen, how I can help, give information on how everything works. When you see it on the field, you know how it's going to happen and adapt to the situation. As a player, you react to the flow of things. As a coach, I can think things through, so it's different."
While Brown has only been at RSL for a short time, the deep MLS backgrounds of Kreis and Brown are something that the Salt Lake players can latch onto during the rigors of an expanded season.
"In some sense, I'm asked how I feel about situations and how to play against certain players," Brown said. "You appreciate that. For me, these guys are here for a reason. They're good players who work hard, are good defenders, and I serve as a reminder for them to stay sharp."
Heading into Wednesday's match against the Fire (2-4-9), Brown notices some significant differences from his final season with Chicago in 2010.
"There is a lot of energy on that team," Brown said. "They have great pace and like to counter attack. They get after it really quick. They're more of a team [than last year's squad]. They're fighting for each other. That is not to say that we didn't do that last year, but you see more of it now."