A Pathway for More Than Just Players

Youth development is not splashy and it rarely makes the headlines, but it's the first building block from which some of the world’s superstars are born.

Nestled in the upper plains of southern Salt Lake City Valley, bright red, blue and yellow lined roofing sticks out like a monolith in the desert among the lines of houses and well-kept landscaping that make up suburban Utah.

It’s a building that has given way to some of soccer’s brightest young talent, but on the sidelines of the academy an ever more impressive development ladder is being climbed, rung by rung.

The success of the coaches from the Real Salt Lake Academy has been largely understated, the players are the crown jewels of the program and, rightly so, have received all the praise. But in the background of the athlete’s achievements are coaches who have walked very similar journeys from the Academy to the first team.

“While player development has always been at the forefront of our Academy, the succession of our coaches have been almost, if not equally, as important,” Executive Vice President of Soccer operations Rob Zarkos said. “Our goal is to give our coaches in the youth system every tool available to out grow their current positions and move upward.”

The club’s most prime example is RSL Head Coach Freddy Juarez, whose career has looked eerily similar to the players he has led. The gaffer has coached at every level in the Real Salt Lake organization, first joining the club in 2010 as an Academy coach.

While with the academy, Juarez coached several players who he would one day lead at the Major League Soccer level. After five years in youth development Juarez was tapped to lead Real Monarchs in their first season and two years later joined RSL as an assistant. Just last year, Juarez was promoted to head coach, a role in which he currently serves.

Juarez’s growth within the organization can be described as the crux of what the entire club is aiming to do, provide pathways for players, coaches and staff alike to work their way up as they continue to learn and cultivate skills one day enabling them to lead at the highest level.

But Juarez isn’t the only one, Real Salt Lake is filled with coaches who have flourished under the organization’s umbrella.

The team’s new goalkeeper coach, Ignacio Hernandez, previously coached in the Academy from 2012-15, during which he coached current New York City FC goalkeeper Luis Barraza and helped the team win a National Championship in 2013. That championship team was coincidentally under the leadership of Juarez and saw five of the game’s starters go on to sign first-team contracts with Real Salt Lake, including current defender Justen Glad.

Across the club there are stories similar to Juarez of coaches growing under the tutelage of the RSL Academy. Mirza Harambasic, current Director of Goalkeeping, got his start just a few years ago coaching the youth goalkeepers. From there he quickly assumed a position as the Real Monarchs Goalkeeper Coach and has since been put in charge of the entire goalkeeping program.

Cody Worden, Elite Talent Director, and Rob Rogers, Director of Video Analysis, both served as head coaches in the Academy and now serve in crucial roles to identify and develop talent at every level.

“The development pathway is not just for players, it’s about creating a place where everyone involved can rise to their fullest potential,” Zarkos said. 

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