Over the last few years the Real Salt Lake-Arizona Academy has produced several pro-ready players and in recent months more have surfaced with contracts with Real Salt Lake and the club’s USL sister club, Real Monarchs SLC.
Although many of those players opt to leave the college ranks before completing their four years of eligibility, coaches around the country are welcoming to the young standouts with eyes on pursuing professional dreams that may have them leaving school early. That is due, in large part, to the readiness of those players to contribute immediately at the college level and continue their development toward those professional aspirations.
Louisville Cardinals Head Coach Ken Lolla knows this all-to-well.
In the last two years, two of his top players have opted to leave early to sign with Real Monarchs SLC with Ricardo Velazco joining the club in its inaugural season and Andrew Brody signing to play with the Monarchs entering the club’s second season in 2016. For Lolla, who has coached top level programs at Akron and Louisville since 1993, the detriment of losing players early is outweighed by the knowledge that the players have gotten what they wanted from their college experience.
“It does make it challenging to replace a significant player, but we understand that when guys decide to go, that also is an indication that we are doing things well here,” Lolla said.
Lolla has long found success both in reaching the NCAA Tournament, where the Cardinals appeared eight straight years including a runners-up finish in 2010, and in developing players for the next level.
Both of those sides of the story have drawn players to Kentucky to play for Lolla, including many from the RSL-Arizona Academy. Now with Velazco and Brody both springboarding their success from the RSL Academy to Louisville to the Monarchs and with the addition of former Cardinals forward Colin Rolfe as well, Lolla has a lot to be happy about with the player development model on campus.
“I think it says a lot about what we’re doing here and our ability to help guys grow. When they come in here, they’re in an environment that allows them to continue to push to reach another level and continue to pursue their goals of playing professional soccer,” Lolla said. “We’re excited that three guys will be in the RSL organization. I have a lot of respect for that organization and the things they’ve done and the people that are guiding it. We’re excited for the opportunity that three guys have there.”
For all of the accolades lobbed Lolla’s way, he is also quick to disperse some of the credit for the development of so many players to the youth setup that brought them to the college level. He had particular lofty praise for the RSL Academy, which has produced both Velazco and Brody, but also Jon Zabassajja, Jack Gayton and Tate Schmitt who all contributed for the Cardinals.
“The Academy system, even at the highest level of MLS, varies in the type of kid that you’re getting from them. One of the things we’ve noticed with RSL and the leadership and the coaching that they have is they’re producing kids that don’t have a very difficult time adjusting to college soccer. They’re prepared to train hard every single day and the competitive level is high. With all of the guys we’ve gotten from RSL, that’s indicative,” Lolla said. “The academy level in general is better than club soccer and, specifically with the academies and the MLS clubs, there are some that clearly do it better than others.”
The Monarchs will start preseason when players report on Friday.