Real Salt Lake opened preseason training camp on Monday for the first day of voluntary workouts at the Zions Bank Training Center in Herriman, Utah.
Although the training session was voluntary, the entire roster of available players was on hand to kick things off in the 2021 season. The mass-participation was a signal of a mentality RSL Head Coach Freddy Juarez has been hoping to see heading into his second full season at the helm.
“Every single one of us has to give more this year and do some things differently,” he said. “I’ve seen a good group of guys already coming and training every day. It is voluntary, but from everything I’ve gathered and seen, the majority of the guys will be here ready to train. We’ll treat it like week one in all other years.”
While it may be the first week on the field in an official capacity, players had been coming to Herriman throughout the offseason to ready themselves for the upcoming season. What started with a few players doing some weight training and running to prepare for international camps quickly evolved to include balls on the field and scrimmages with numbers growing by the day.
By the end of February, only a few players coming back from their offseason homes and picks in the MLS SuperDraft had yet to arrive and undergo the quarantine required within league protocols. That group of players included some players with Real Monarchs who were looking to get fit for the 2021 USL Championship season.
Although coaches were not able to attend those training sessions, Juarez and his staff still took note of the growing participation and the buy-in from the players throughout the organization. It was a credit, he said, to the leadership within the team.
“With all of the players that came in, not once did that come from me,” Juarez said. “Whatever the reason, I know they’ve been out here putting in the work and that’s what sets the standard.”
After two consecutive playoff seasons in which RSL advanced in the postseason with wins over LAFC in 2018 and the Portland Timbers in 2019, Real Salt Lake struggled through the 2020 season and finished with a record of 5-10-7.
The approach in 2021 is one of redemption – both individually and as a club.
“They’re in the same mindset that I have. We weren’t good enough last year. That means we have to respond by doing things differently. We have to work harder and get fitter. In my case, I have to work harder to change some tactics and analyze players and scout in positions that we need,” Juarez said. “When I saw that, it’s exactly the culture that I love and we’ve been trying to talk about. It was all organic by players. All these guys wanting to stay back and train was awesome to see. It almost puts us a step ahead. Their fitness is at a pretty good level and you’re already seeing a camaraderie taking place earlier rather than waiting for camp to start.”
RSL will continue voluntary workouts throughout the week before the official start of full training camp on March 8.