Real Salt Lake’s plan to develop players within the organization at all levels has seen it boast one of the best young squads in Major League Soccer with a large portion of its squad coming from the RSL Academy carrying vast Major League Soccer experience.
Real Salt Lake ranks second in MLS with 21 Academy products signed to the first team since the first signing of Donny Toia in 2011, sitting behind just FC Dallas who ranks first in MLS in Homegrown signings with 25. The 12 RSL Academy products on RSL’s current roster have contributed the most minutes (1,881) for an MLS team in 2019.
“It’s the future of MLS,” said RSL midfielder and captain Kyle Beckerman. “You’re starting to see teams go different ways, but it looks like RSL among other teams are committed to the academy. I like it. We’re that underdog team. Going with the Academy guys kind of goes right along with that.”
In its fourth match of the 2019 MLS regular season, RSL Head Coach Mike Petke opted to start a league-record six Homegrown players against LAFC - two of which, Erik Holt and Tate Schmitt, were making their MLS debuts. Additionally, Luis Arriaga made his MLS debut in the same match, adding his name to the growing list of RSL Academy products to have made their debuts for the first team. In 2019, RSL has continued a trend that saw the club lead all MLS club’s in Academy product minutes played in 2018 with 10,826.
“All of our Academy players are great professionals,” RSL defender and Academy product Justen Glad said. “Our new guys have come in with the right mindset to be the best they can be and contribute to the group.”
Fresh off of his second stint with the U.S. Men’s National Team, reigning AT&T MLS Rookie of the Year and RSL Academy alum Corey Baird is aiming to raise the standard for MLS Academy products. The young forward logged 56 minutes in a 1-1 draw with Chile, the No. 13 ranked nation in the FIFA World Rankings during the USMNT’s March camp.
“Using what I’ve learned in camp with the USMNT, I can do my best to bring the level from camp back to RSL and help the group,” Baird said. “A lot of what I’ve learned with the USMNT I can bring back to RSL to help improve our team.”
Baird’s recent call-ups to the USMNT aren’t the only accolades former RSL Academy members have earned in recent weeks. The youngest member of RSL’s roster, forward Julian Vasquez, featured for the Mexico U-18s where on March 20, he notched a goal against Russia to help his side to a 3-2 victory.
“I’ve always known the quality we’ve had with our Academy and I’m not surprised that this many players have made it to the first team at RSL,” Glad reflected. “It’s a credit to Dell Loy Hansen and the Academy here. The system he and the club has built here is going to be a model for our club for a long time.”
RSL Academy products don’t just contribute to the MLS side as evidence of the Academy’s pedigree is abound from top to bottom. For RSL’s USL Championship affiliate Real Monarchs SLC, five RSL Academy products have featured for the club this season. Members of the RSL Academy U-19 side have had the opportunity throughout the 2019 preseason and regular season to feature for the second-division club, namely goalkeeper David Ochoa. The 18-year-old goalkeeper, RSL first team member and Academy eligible net-minder is currently among the USL Championship goalkeeping elite, jostling for top position in the league in both the saves and shutout categories.
The view from Zions Bank Real Academy in Herriman, Utah to Rio Tinto Stadium allows for the young players to see the progression and what it takes to reach the highest level of soccer in America. From the on-campus Academy housing, to Zions Bank Stadium to Rio Tinto Stadium, the progression and expectation is tangible.
Needless to say, the RSL Academy is and will remain the pinnacle of development for American soccer which is only enhanced by the crowning facility that is the Zions Bank Real Academy. Fans can count on the club’s commitment to growing from within and with the player’s sights set on playing collegiately and professionally out of the RSL Academy, the club will only continue to get stronger.