After years of tinkering and tweaking the recipe for youth development within the Real Monarchs system it seems as if this year has seen a breakthrough of sorts, with 16 players from the club’s Academy getting significant minutes on the pitch in USL Championship matches.

Among them is 17-year-old defender Jaziel Orozco, who unlike many other teenagers, plays beyond his years, with the poise and confidence of a seasoned veteran. He started the season in eight of the team’s first nine matches and was given the honor of wearing the captain’s armband in the 1-1 draw at Tacoma Defiance on June 23.

All told his effort has garnered the recognition of coaches with Real Salt Lake, across the league and even as far as the Mexico National Team.

In June the young defender received a call with an invitation to spend a month training with Mexico in its lead up to the Concacaf Gold Cup, sharing the pitch alongside stars such as Hector Herrera and Hector Moreno who Orozco had grown up watching on his television screen from the comfort of his living room.

Born in El Paso, Texas, Orozco carries with him the legacy of his parents when wearing the colors of the El Tri, both of whom were born and raised in Mexico.

“It’s always great to be with the national team in Mexico where my father and mother are from,” Orozco said. “It’s a great experience and a great feeling to represent a whole country too.”

While with the team he participated in daily training sessions as part of the scout team, helping the first team prepare for their opponents in the upcoming tournament matches. As a result, he was forced to defend some of Mexico’s top scorers who hail from clubs across the globe.

“The main focus was basically to get the most out of it. Learn from the other guys, the experienced guys, those that played in Europe,” Orozco said. “There were really great players that you learn a lot from. I try to do my best, try to show myself to other trainers, even to the first team coach because who knows, maybe he’ll still be watching later on”

After a month of intense training Orozco returned to Utah and Real Monarchs and picked up right where he left off, sliding back into the starting lineup for Head Coach Jamison Olave, but now with more confidence and leadership gained from weeks of playing alongside his nation’s best.

While he is pleased with the growth and opportunities he has been given over the past few months Orozco realizes this is only the starting point and that there is still so much left to improve on the lessons learned with Mexico while also being attuned to what’s next.

“I think more leadership,” Orozco responded when asked what he hopes to carry with him into this next phase of the season. “Be a voice down on the field. When you are a defender, you have to be the loudest player on the field and make everyone hears you. I want to be a leader and a monster out there.”

For now, Orozco will continue training with Real Monarchs as they prepare for their upcoming match on Saturday, August 21 at San Antonio FC. The match will provide another chance for the young defender to demonstrate that for him his age on the pitch is truly just a number.