In 2014, Major League Soccer redesigned the league crest to bring the club into a new era with a new direction. The newly designed logo featured three stars in the top left corner, representing the league’s commitment to club, country and community.
Now, just over four years later, Real Salt Lake defender Justen Glad is as much a representation for the vision that the league had for its new direction as they come. At just 21 years old, the RSL Academy product is already entering his sixth MLS season and second camp with the U.S. National Team. Over the next three days, we will explore how the young defender has established himself as a pillar of all three of the league’s enduring guideposts.
In part one, we tag along as Glad visits the Miller family. North Carolina residents, the Millers – Jacob, Jaimee, Perryn and Rayner – were in Utah for the holidays when eight-year-old Perryn was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Alone, Perryn’s diagnosis would be enough to shake a family to its core. However, it had already been a trying year for the young family. Rayner had a series of treatments for a rare ailment in April, then the family lost its home during Hurricane Florence in September. Perryn’s cancer diagnosis was just another weight on their already heavy load.
A retired Marine from Bountiful, Utah, Jacob and his family took the news in stride. With treatments looming, though, the family decided to extend their holiday trip with a four-month stay to have Perryn’s treatment at Primary Children’s Medical Center.
That’s where Justen Glad comes in.
Glad has established himself as a go-to player whenever RSL Foundation Executive Director Mary Van Minde needs an appearance at a hospital or elementary school. Eager to get involved in the community that supports his team, Glad finds ways to connect with the children on their level and elevates the mood in the room with his endearing personality.
“I feel like it’s very important to have an active role in the community,” Glad said. “Seeing that you can change someone’s day just by visiting them and talking to them and showing that you care about them, it’s easy to take that time out of your day to change someone’s day drastically. I think I get as much out of it as they do.”
RSL’s Co-Humanitarian of the Year in 2017, Glad got a call from Van Minde over the holidays when she learned of the Miller’s story. In Arizona training with teammates before he departed for the U.S. National Team’s January camp in California, Glad made plans to visit the Millers in the brief time he spent in Utah between training stints.
So on January 4, Glad played Santa Claus, delivering Real Salt Lake gear, including a personalized jersey for Perryn, along with some toys for the children.
To him, the visit was an easy decision.
“That’s a lot for a family to go through. It felt like the right thing to do and I’m just happy that we could bring a small amount of happiness and joy. The family was wonderful,” Glad said. “They’ve been through a lot. They’ve been through a tough time. It’s nice to give them a break from that and see the relief and the happiness that the Foundation and all of the work that Mary is doing has an impact.”
He isn’t alone with RSL either. In his time with the club, he has seen the efforts of players like Nat Borchers, Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran and others and has made an effort to mimic what they do to impact the city on a grander scale and given it his own voice.
While the visit with the Millers was a powerful one for Glad, he built up to being a point person for Van Minde when big events come up after working extensively with the RSL Foundation at events throughout the community.
From school appearances to hospital visits, Glad has been a staple in the community throughout the Wasatch Front. So when she heard of the Miller’s story, Glad was the first person she called.
“I have seen a personal growth in Justen’s voice. He understands the power of the sport for good. He understands his power off the pitch,” Van Minde said. “It doesn’t always come naturally to people his age and he has wanted to develop that since I met him.”
Glad is quick to credit Van Minde and the Foundation for opening doors to him that otherwise would not have been even recognized. That is part of humility of a kid who sought out the opportunities to make an impact through his platform as a professional soccer player without the recognition that often comes with it.
The more he has developed that voice, the more open he is to publicize his efforts – not in an effort to seek praise, but to raise awareness for the good that can be done in the community through simple gestures.
“Going to a Children’s Hospital and seeing the kids – even if they don’t know who you are, they get excited and it makes them happy. We have so much time on our hands and so much has been given to us. We’re blessed to be healthy and fit and when you go to these places, you realize a lot of people are going through tough times,” Glad said. “It’s an important role to play if you want to grow as a person. If you want to make the world a better place, that’s step one.”
For more on the Miller’s story, click here.