Last month, eight past and present Real Salt Lake Academy members took the pitch for the Real Monarchs in their USL Championship match against LA Galaxy II. Among them was 16-year-old defender Jaziel Orozco.
As the season has progressed, the number has only continued to grow as additional academy alumni and present academy players have taken the pitch, including Homegrown Milan Iloski, who scored his first professional goal and ended the game with a brace this past week with the Real Monarchs.
Since the second-division Club’s inception in 2015, Real Salt Lake organization has utilized the Real Monarchs as a mechanism for growth and development. It has seen the likes of Nick Besler, Andrew Brody, Maikel Chang and Douglas Martinez earnfirst team contracts.
Previously, RSL has found success bringing players in from the Academy who found first-team minutes early in their professional careers. Justen Glad, Sebastian Saucedo and Brooks Lennon all bypassed the college game while Aaron Herrera, Corey Baird and Jordan Allen, each of who continued their development in the college ranks.
Prior to the inception of the Real Monarchs team, younger players signed professional contracts and it was either sink or swim with the first team. Now with a more defined ladder, through the Real Monarchs, players are able to sign professional contracts at a younger age knowing they can get high-level games in the USL Championship level while still developing along the way. This development ladder gives these younger professionals the opportunity to play dozens of games with and againstUSL professionals before they play their first MLS match.
With that structure in mind, 2021 welcomed a new era for the Real Monarchs, one that is still focused on the development of talent, but this time by looking from within at the Club’s academy. When Orozco put pen to paper on his new contract he became the second teenager on a Real Monarchs specific contract to climb the ladder from the academy to the Real Monarchs with the hopes of one day suiting up for Real Salt Lake.
This week, the pathway was further confirmed as 18-year-old defender Zack Farnsworth became the Club’s 27th all-time Homegrown signing and the league-leading 12th on this year’s Real Salt Lake roster.
Farnsworth, like many other academy products, spent much of his 2020 academy season with the USL Championship side, where he had time to grow and hone his craft. That year of development led to an invitation to train with RSL during this year’s preseason, even going as far as earning a starting spot during one of the preseason matches.
It is a clear and proven pipeline from academy to professional ranks that has created an organization that feels a lot like one giant team, all under the umbrella of Real Salt Lake
“The organization as a whole doesn’t work without all three entities -- Real Salt Lake, Real Monarchs and the Academy,” RSL Assistant General Manager Tony Beltran said. “The way it is built, our system and our process doesn’t work without the Real Monarchs and again doesn’t work without the academy or the first team. It’s a very precise balance.”
Between Real Salt Lake and the Real Monarchs, 17 players from within the academy system have seen professional minutes this season, including a combined 1,690 minutes at the Major League Soccer level. In addition, seven former members of the Real Monarchs have earned significant playing time with Real Salt Lake.
The ability to rise to new levelson a day-to-day basis, while also having the option to go back down and continue to develop creates a fluid program, constantly in motion, providing players every chance to excel in a challenging and structured development environment.
But the success of the Real Salt Lake Academy program has truly only just begun, as prospects like Farnsworth and Orozco point to a bright future for the Club.
“The keyword comes back to development, we are a platform where players can come into a place where we can teach them what it takes to be a professional and a contributing member of society,” Beltran said. “Development and growth is what we do here, we like to grow soccer players and I think we’ve done well so far, but we are always looking for methods and strategies for continued improvement.”