In an ever-evolving landscape like Major League Soccer’s, clubs are always looking for an edge to sustain long-term growth and stability. Real Salt Lake didn’t have to look far to help grow its already deep roots of development and growth by way of individual development plans.
By promoting Cody Worden as the club’s Elite Talent Director, RSL now has a dedicated individual who will facilitate and oversee collaboration and development plans from the RSL Academy all the way to the first team.
“Being involved in coaching for 18 years, I think my skillset brings a lot to the table in terms of identifying specific plans for players to help them fit within a certain system while utilizing their individual talent to succeed,” Worden explained. “I’ve been a part of the developmental process with players from eight years old to now with professional adults. This is a unique position that I’m excited for because I get to be involved at all levels of the club.”
Beginning with RSL Academy in the spring of 2019, Worden started at the foundation of the club’s sporting model. Worden arrived in Utah as the RSL Academy U-17 Head Coach where he found success that allowed for a move to a more permanent role within the professional sphere. Joining Jamison Olave’s coaching staff with Real Monarchs ahead of the 2020 season brought about the chance to help connect the Academy closer to the USL Championship side and deepen the roots of growth within the club.
“My primary role is to collaborate with all departments applicable to the footballing side. From all of the coaching staffs to the front office to the athletic training and medical staffs, my job is to continue to help accelerate the development of players and implement individual growth models for each player,” Worden said. “While the individual development of each player is important for the overall trajectory and ideology of RSL, we want the players to have the autonomy to use their talents to progress as players and as people because we feel like that falls directly in line with the ideology of our club.”
While the club’s growth model and Worden’s role is specified for each player at each level, there remains a goal of future plans for development targets for each player to reach. By promoting autonomy to each player, helping him master his position on the field and master an authentic role within the team and providing purpose within the locker room and the organization as a whole, RSL believes the initiative will help strengthen the future of the club on a long-term scale.
“There are players at the first team level right now that are still growing, almost everyone is. But there are also players within the Academy and USL Championship that are trying to obtain MLS level play or even reach the college level. So, my job is to help identify those signals and develop plans to help those players reach their potential levels,” Worden said.
The art of being able to identify players for whatever the next level of play is for them is something that Worden has specialized in from his 18 years of experience within the youth, college and professional spectrums. Worden has seen success at the club and Academy levels throughout his time in California with the San Jose Earthquakes Academy in the Bay Area where he led the regional development centers for the U-14 age group. Following his time with the ‘Quakes, Worden became the Academy Director for FC Golden State where he directed 8 to 14-year-old players on the youth side before culminating in a successful stint at Surf Soccer club where he led the club’s Academy for three-and-a-half years.
Working with players who broke into the professional game from a young age, Worden hopes to utilize his knowledge of development and implement the strategies within RSL to help raise the level of players at all levels.
“Working to earn a professional contract is different from players trying to earn a contract,” he said. “Being a professional you already know what the expectation is. But from a footballing perspective it will be imperative for me to track the progress of our Academy players at all levels and communicate that progress from my point of view to the necessary heads of football.”
Benchmarks for each player will be established throughout a player’s journey at RSL. These marks will include technical subjects, tactical education and physical marks that each player will need to hit to progress within their own individual development.
The growth plans for Academy players will look different from those at the USL Championship level and those will differ from the MLS level. For the MLS level, the growth plans won’t be wholesale changes to fit a certain model. It will be more centered around the value a player places in making individual changes for the benefit of the on-field product.
“If there is a problem that we need to address technically or tactically, it will be all about diagnosing that problem and take the steps to help that player own his own growth and development to rectify that. This would include 1-2 extra sessions during the week or work after training to fix a potential issue or generate a new skill,” Worden detailed.
Worden will report directly to newly appointed Technical Director Kurt Schmid along with the club’s coaching staffs. Real Salt Lake is scheduled to open the 2021 MLS regular season on April 17, with preseason slated to start on March 1.