Thirteen years ago, Major League Soccer took a chance on a small market with a limited pro soccer history.
While the other markets that saw expansion clubs in MLS in the years that followed had long storied histories in the professional game in San Jose, Los Angeles, Toronto and Seattle, Salt Lake City would follow a different path.
Now, in 2017, behind the visionary mind of owner Dell Loy Hansen, that faith in a small market is paying off in a big way. Already at the forefront of Major League Soccer with its expansive residential Academy in Arizona, Hansen invested 50-million-dollars in a new, state-of-the-art facility in Herriman Utah that will serve as home to Real Salt Lake, the USL’s Real Monarchs and the RSL U-18, U-16 and U-14 Academy teams, bringing an already flourishing academy system to the Wasatch Front.
That system already produced the likes of Justen Glad, Sebastian Saucedo, Danny Acosta and Brooks Lennon, who are providing hope for the U.S. U-20 National Team in its quest to qualify for the 2017 FIFA World Cup. They are just the latest in a line of RSL’s Homegrown standouts that have kept the youth pipeline overflowing at Rio Tinto Stadium.
It’s not just the Academy, though. A look at RSL’s roster will show a rich investment in young talent from around the world to bolster a veteran core that includes MLS legends Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando.
While that duo is setting records in what will be their 11th seasons in Salt Lake City, General Manager Craig Waibel has set the club on a path for future success with long-term contracts to a slew of players around whom RSL can build a playoff contender for years to come. Names like Justen Glad and Jordan Allen join the likes of Ecuadorian forward Joao Plata and newly-signed Slovakian playmaker Albert Rusnák. All four are on multi-year contracts, as is club legend Yura Movsisyan as the club has restructured the roster in a way to compete for trophies in the short term while developing players that can have longlasting impacts on the landscape of soccer in MLS.
And while the first team is in the spotlight, there is much more to the growth of Real Salt Lake than that.
At the USL level, Waibel has restructured the way the team is compiled to include more veteran players to complement the bevy of young talent the club is looking to develop. To nurture those players and ready them for the MLS level, the Monarchs brought in MLS stalwart and 2013 Supporters’ Shield winning coach Mike Petke to take command of the USL outfit. To say the club is entering an exciting new era on the field is an understatement.
Off the field, incredible strides are being made to upgrade an already picturesque Rio Tinto Stadium. After already adding a new technologically advanced video board in the south end and resurfacing the field over the last two years, the RioT will now feature a forward-thinking Executive Club inside the stadium and a newly refurbished Carnival Real outside the stadium, providing unparalleled accommodations for prominent local businessmen and women and local youth – both are groups that will help continue the growth of MLS and RSL in the Salt Lake region.
However, the focus isn’t just on raising the profile of the club in its soccer-specific ventures. Through MLS WORKS, RSL has remained an incredibly active servant to the community. In the past year alone, the RSL Foundation has provided an avenue for the players to get out and be active members in the community. The highlights of that initiative are the continued installation of minipitches throughout the region and a license plate campaign that will benefit local charities with a focus on inclusion and green initiatives in the Salt Lake City area.
Against all odds, Real Salt Lake has proven year in and year out to be a model franchise in Major League Soccer, showing that it is a league that can be successful in markets big and small. Now, Dell Loy Hansen has taken that one step further and propelled RSL to the cutting edge of clubs in the league through ambitious efforts in all phases of the organization.
We have believed all along. Now we are taking that mantra that has echoed through the rafters of Rio Tinto Stadium and taken it to a new level, beyond belief.