A year ago, Real Salt Lake Assistant Coach Freddy Juarez beamed with pride as five RSL Academy products suited up for the U.S. U-20 National Team in the U-20 World Cup after winning the CONCACAF U-20 Championship for the first time in history.
On Sunday, he felt that same pride again, though amplified, when Carlos Salcedo helped Mexico to a 1-0 win over top-ranked Germany in the first match of Group F in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
It was the culmination of a long and winding path to the Mexican National Team for another product of the RSL Academy that reigned supreme under Juarez’s guidance and another feather in the cap for arguably the strongest academy system in the MLS pipeline.
“It’s exciting,” Juarez smiled after finishing a training session at the Zions Bank Training Center in Herriman, Utah, which now plays home to the vaunted Real Salt Lake Academy after previously playing in remote Casa Grande, Arizona. “I guess the crazy thing about Carlos is that it happened so quickly. It’s super exciting, but you didn’t really get the grasp of it until you turn on the TV and see him playing against Germany as a right back … and doing it very well.”
Salcedo’s path to the World Cup didn’t start in Arizona – as Justen Glad, Danny Acosta, Brooks Lennon, Sebastian Saucedo and Aaron Herrera did with the U.S. U-20 side. However, his two seasons in Casa Grande under the tutelage of Juarez and Martin Vasquez helped revitalize his growth curve after hitting plateaus in the academy systems of Chivas de Guadalajara and Tigres UANL in Mexico.
Playing in those successful youth setups before landing with Real Salt Lake provided him with the experience, but also the determination to overcome hardships.
“When he was on the field, he was always one of the most hard-working individuals,” Juarez recalled. “He faced adversity and he knew how badly he wanted to reach the next level. Then after that, he’d work to reach the next level.”
While at the academy in 2012 and 2013, he frequently trained with the first team, particularly on preseason trips to Arizona. So by the time he earned his first MLS appearance in 2013, he was already accustomed to the surroundings of a professional environment.
He had also seen the competition for playing time at his preferred center back position – battling with the likes of Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler and other MLS veterans each week to earn a spot on the field. By the end of the 2013 season, he had earned the trust of Jason Kreis and his coaching staff, as well as his teammates, and started 12 matches for a team that went on to the MLS Cup final.
He carried that experience into the 2014 season and started eight matches of his 12 appearances, giving him 25 appearances and 20 starts over two seasons. The competition raised the standards for the young defender as he sharpened his skills through the rigors of each training session.
That fit well with Salcedo’s personality on the field and further lifted his progress.
“He came into an established set of defenders but also an established team. So he was involved in a championship-bound team with players that knew how to win games and win a championship,” Juarez said. “He wasn’t given anything early because there were established players in front of him and he had to work for it. And his strength was working hard and embracing challenges.”
Following the 2014 season, Salcedo went on to play with Chivas in Mexico, Fiorentina in Italy and with his current club, Eintracht Frankfurt, in Germany. All the while, he was working his way into the Mexican National Team, building from the Olympic team that he captained in 2016 until ultimately becoming a regular performer for the top country in CONCACAF and a top-15 team in the world.
At the club level, he helped Frankfurt to an eighth-place finish in the Bundesliga and a Europa League berth as winners of the DFB-Pokal – Germany’s equivalent to the U.S. Open Cup or FA Cup.
With all of those accolades in tow, Salcedo is slated to be among the players at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 10 in a friendly with Real Salt Lake. It will be a good opportunity to renew acquaintances with players, coaches and fans alike – as throughout his climb to the World Cup and European tournaments, Salcedo has never lost sight of his RSL roots.
That is a point of pride for Juarez as he watches his former player excel on the world’s stage.
“I had my little part,” he smiled. “There was a lot of work done before he came to us, but I was with him for a year and a half. It’s been great to see him talk about how much he appreciates his time with RSL and the Academy. He loves the club and he is not a guy who forgets and to see him give us credit is rewarding.”
Mexico shares the lead in Group F with two matches remaining against South Korea on June 23 and Sweden on June 27.