When Real Salt Lake’s $72.5-million dollar facility at the Zions Bank Real Academy is completed, it will be among the most advanced training facilities in North American soccer and will put the club on par with several big clubs around the world. In bringing the four teams within the organization – Real Salt Lake, Real Monarchs SLC and the U-18 and U-16 Academy teams - under one roof, it will be a game-changer for the club’s youth development.
Already one of the premier academy setups in U.S. Soccer, the Real Salt Lake Academy made the move from Casa Grande, Arizona, to Herriman, Utah. With that move comes a giant leap forward in the ability to progress players through the system from a young age and attract talent from around the country to a residential academy that is unlike any other.
In addition to the facilities, Real Salt Lake has another tantalizing piece that has consistently drawn promising young players to the reclusive desert in Arizona – Academy Director Martin Vasquez.
“What makes him unique is the experience that he brings. He’s played internationally – for the U.S and Mexico. He holds an interesting dynamic because he has healthy relationships throughout U.S. Soccer, the professional clubs in the U.S., the Mexican Federation and Liga MX,” Real Salt Lake General Manager Craig Waibel said. “There’s no one else who has the same credentials. No one else can claim the things he has.”
Vasquez has a resume that reads like a potential head-coaching hire. He played 17 years professionally for clubs around the U.S. and Mexico, highlighted by a five-year stint with Atlas in Mexico’s Liga MX. Since retiring in 1999, his coaching career has included stops with the LA Galaxy, Chivas USA, Bayern Munich and the U.S. National Team. He served as an assistant coach at each stop until making his head coaching debut with Chivas USA for the 2010 season. However, after parting ways with the now-defunct MLS club, he didn’t immediately seek another assistant job in MLS, instead opting to coach at the youth level. After one year with the Chicago Magic, he took a leap of faith and relocated to Arizona to be part of the burgeoning academy for Real Salt Lake.
“I saw the place and the team and the complex … it was totally different because of the residential program, because of the facilities and being an MLS academy,” Vasquez said this week after reflecting on his lengthy list of coaching achievements.
Immediately upon arriving the wheels started turning and he took to transforming the secluded facility in Casa Grande, Arizona, into a haven for youth soccer development.
The list of players that have found success in the professional and international ranks after working through the academy is lengthy. It includes current Mexican National Team center back Carlos Salcedo and the slew of Claret-and-Cobalt players that have represented the U.S. at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, from Jordan Allen in 2015 to the five players donning the Stars-and-Stripes in 2017 – Danilo Acosta, Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera, Brooks Lennon and Sebastian Saucedo.
Vasquez has had a knack not only for attracting top young players to RSL’s Academy, but also in getting the most out of those players in accelerating their development.
“These kids coming out of the academy understand what it means to train at a high level with intensity. I don’t know if they understand that when they get there, but they sure get it when they leave,” Waibel said. “By and large, the majority of them come out with remarkable work ethic in practice, great focus on the field and an understanding that there is room to learn and develop. We have a rock solid academy with a remarkable facility and a remarkable staff that command respect so the kids listen.”
That is a credit to Vasquez’s coaching ability, but also to his passion for developing young players.
When he was their age, Vasquez sought Sunday league matches that would pit him against adults from around the Los Angeles area. A native of Yahualica in Mexico, he moved the U.S. as a teenager and quickly adapted to the local scene, despite its lack of organization when it came to youth development. While he didn’t get the on-field education that comes from regular training sessions, he was hardened by steel of facing people many years his senior.
“I was getting kicked and pushed around by men. But I was playing the game and that was part of my development,” he said. “I had to survive. I had to get clever and savvy and look out for myself. In a way, I think it helped me and I made the best of it.”
That stoked the fire for the game until he was able to move to the professional ranks. There, he was able to learn from the likes of Cesar Luis Menotti – a legend in the coaching circles in Mexico and Argentina – and he started towards a path that has kept him active in the game well after he retired from playing in 1999.
In addition to Menotti, he his list of mentors when he took to the assistant coaching ranks reads like a who’s who of U.S. coaching luminaries and he’s not shy about praising them for helping his development as a coach.
“I think I have taken a little bit of everyone. I was very fortunate to be Sigi Schmid’s assistant when I became a professional soccer coach. Bob Bradley has been a very successful coach. Working with him was an incredible experience. And then at the next level coaching with Jurgen Klinsmann at Bayern Munich and with the national team,” he said. “I’ve been influenced in many ways by those three coaches.”
With all of those tremendous stops on his coaching journey, he still holds the greatest passion for developing young players. That comes from a combination of his own opportunities – or lack thereof – as a young player, the valuable lessons he has learned throughout his career on the field and on the technical staff and the relationships he has developed with the prospective players along the way.
It’s his passion and humility that elevate him above his peers.
“He has an inner fire to succeed and develop not only the kids, but also himself. He has no ego. He’s coached at the highest levels and in the biggest games in the world and he doesn’t take that as something you should allow him to rest for,” Waibel said. “Humility is a big piece for him. He is a steadfast worker and his drive to be in the office … he’s going to be advised by me to take a break.”
As Real Salt Lake continues to develop young talent and it is rewarded with first team playing time and international opportunities, his smile broadens.
So when Sebastian Saucedo assisted on a goal by Brooks Lennon late in RSL’s 4-1 win over the Colorado Rapids last week to clinch the Rocky Mountain Cup and they celebrated together, it surely brought a tinge of satisfaction and pride in Vasquez.
“I played for 17 years and it’s the best satisfaction you can get. I had coaches and mentors that supported me and pushed me. When I started coaching I found it was satisfying in different ways. There are challenges. The tactics. The stress. The pressure. The adrenaline. It’s pressure, but when you win, it’s satisfying,” Vasquez said. “When we saw that we were influencing our boys and could get them to the professional level, there is no greater satisfaction. It’s an amazing feeling to have a positive impact on those young men.”