The rise of Bode Hidalgo is no accident.
The 20-year-old RSL defender became the first ever Utah born RSL Academy player to score a Major League Soccer goal for the Club in its 3-1 Decision Day victory against the Portland Timbers, capping off an incredible MLS debut season for the boy from Kaysville, Utah.
And that special goal was a product of a system working in harmony from RSL Academy to Real Monarchs to Real Salt Lake.
This is On The Rise: Bode Hidalgo.
“I grew up going to a lot of games,” Hidalgo said while looking across the Zions Bank Real Academy Training pitches in Herriman, Utah.
Hidalgo was three years old when Real Salt Lake became the 12th franchise in Major League Soccer in 2005. The training pitches he had just walked off were still years from being built.
17 years later, he became the first ever Utah born Academy player to score for his boyhood club. The Club he and his friends grew up supporting as aspiring soccer players from Utah.
Hidalgo joined the RSL Academy in 2016, and signed his first professional contract with Real Monarchs in the summer of 2020. By the end of the 2020 season, Hidalgo would sign a Homegrown contract with Real Salt Lake. In 2021, Hidalgo played with the Monarchs making 22 appearances and 18 starts while tallying two goals and two assists.
By 2022, Hidalgo felt it was time to make his mark in the first team.
In a preseason meeting with RSL Manager Pablo Mastroeni, Hidalgo told his coach, “I will play for this team, Pablo. I just want you to know where my head’s at. I will play for this team.”
Looking back at that moment, Mastroeni knew that the self belief his young defender had in himself was crucial for his development.
“At the time, you're looking at the depth chart, you don't really see it, but you're really proud of the desire and really proud of the accountability he's willing to take on in a moment where his feet aren’t really touching the ground in preseason … So Bode literally manifested this moment for himself, ” said Mastroeni.
Hidalgo would make good on his promise, making his Major League Soccer debut in just the fourth game of the season, a 2-1 home victory against Nashville SC.
Following his debut however, Hidalgo found himself in and outside of the 18 man roster, making only a few more substitute appearances throughout the summer. It was here, when things weren’t going the way he had planned, that Hidalgo remained focused and put in more work with the Real Monarchs.
“I think without the Monarchs or the Academy, I wouldn't be where I am today,” said Hidalgo.
“That long stretch in the middle of the year when I wasn't with the First Team, but getting games with Monarchs, I felt that really helped and gave me a big confidence booster to give him to where I am now.”
Hidalgo continued to play well for Real Monarchs, biding his time until he would get another chance.
The moment Hidalgo was waiting for with the first team appeared as a midseason friendly against former Liga MX Champion, Atlas FC.
“I knew we weren't gonna have a lot of guys due to international duty and some out with safety protocols so when I saw I had the chance to play in that game. I just took my chance, '' said Hidalgo.
Although fellow defender Aaron Herrera’s wondergoal took the headlines, it was Hidalgo’s play against the Liga MX giants that raised eyebrows across the organization. After the game, Masteroni even named him Man of the Match.
“He was immense and very effective on both sides of the ball,'' said RSL’s Director of Communications, Trey Fitz-Gerald.
“I don't know that I've seen a player in RSL's history that has improved from February one to October one as much as Bode has this year.”
While his goal against Portland on Decision Day was a culmination of a year of working towards getting a chance, it was against Atlas FC that you could argue Hidalgo earned that opportunity.
Then when that opportunity knocked in the biggest match of the year, Hidalgo took it.
Up 2-0 at home against the Timbers, the Club that knocked RSL out of the MLS Cup Playoffs the year before, Hidalgo entered the match a little after halftime. With eight minutes left in regular time, he found himself in an attacking opportunity with fellow RSL rookie Jasper Löffelsend.
“I got the ball,” said Hidalgo. “I remember I thought about taking him on at first, but Jasper made a run and with that much space behind, I figured passing was the best option. Then you just move after you pass, I was open and that was that.”
A goal that ensured RSL would be headed to the postseason for the second consecutive season. A goal that ensured Hidalgo a spot in history with his boyhood club.
From RSL Academy, to Real Monarchs to scoring big goals for Real Salt Lake. Just like it was drawn up.
“He's certainly a great kind of shining example of how the pathway works,” RSL General Manager Elliot Fall said.
While looking around the 17th consecutive sell-out crowd at the stadium he grew up going to, Hidalgo started to realize exactly what had just happened.
“When I got out there, it was just like a normal game, and then when the final whistle blew, you kind of just think, ‘Holy cow’ that was a big deal,” said Hidalgo.
Back to the present day, still staring out toward the Wasatch Mountain Range he’s known all his life, Hidalgo looks down and laughs.
“It’s kind of surreal isn’t it?” he said. “Being the first Utah born Academy player to score for us.”
If Hidalgo’s 2022 season was about getting a chance, 2023 will be about taking them.
“That was great and all, but it just makes me want to push for more,” said Hidalgo.
And pushing it to another level is exactly what he’s doing this offseason.
Hidalgo went to Belgium with fellow Homegrown defenders Zack Farnsworth, and Jaziel Orozco to train with David Blitzer Global Football Holdings network Club SK Beveren who compete in the Belgian second division.
Now back in Utah, Hidalgo will continue to push for playing time, and make himself a permanent part of Mastroeni’s first team plans.
“He's always had the athletic tools and he's a good technical player,” Fall said. “I think Bode's a great example of what we're trying to do here and what we want to continue to do every single year with young players.”
Like fellow Homegrown defenders and eventual RSL Defenders of the Year winners Aaron Herrera and Andrew Brody before him, all he needed was a chance to prove what he could do.
With that chance in 2022, Bode Hidalgo turned RSL’s Academy pathway into a runway. In 2023, he looks to take off.