A year ago, Bode Davis and Chris Garcia came to Real Salt Lake preseason training camp in Tucson, Arizona, hopeful that they could earn professional contracts. They looked around the locker room at the likes of Kyle Beckerman and Nedum Onuoha that had been professionals as long as Davis and Garcia had been alive, and others like Justen Glad and Aaron Herrera that had gone through the RSL Academy to find success at the MLS and international ranks.
Now after a full year in the professional ranks, they find themselves on the other side of those conversations as RSL Academy players Zack Farnsworth, Griffin Dillon and Jaziel Orozco have joined the fray in preseason camp, looking to do the same as those who came before them.
It is a narrative that extends throughout the roster as 11 players came through the RSL Academy and six additional players joined RSL’s roster after initially coming through the Real Monarchs in the USL Championship, it also extends into the coaching staff where Head Coach Freddy Juarez leads a cadre of staff that has plied their trade at different levels in the RSL organization.
“That’s what RSL is. It’s part of our DNA and there is story after story of players coming from the Academy and making it to our first team. It’s achievable,” Juarez said. “It’s happened multiple times and it’s right in their face with multiple stories. And I’m a believer in it … it’s my story too.”
While Davis looked around and saw players near his own age that assured him that he fit in with the squad, he also had a sense of the club’s history and the leap from Academy soccer to the MLS level of play cemented by the presences of Beckerman and Onuoha.
The frequent conversations throughout preseason helped ease the transition for the then-18-year-old Kaysville, Utah native.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Davis said. “My locker was next to Beckerman’s and it was crazy to get perspective from someone who has been doing it for so long. He gave me a lot of tips and watching what they do from day-to-day, it’s crazy to see the jump to the pros.”
As Juarez stated, the preseason experience struck the balance between showing the increased level of play and giving the young players confidence that they could compete.
What’s more, the aspiring pros also earned opportunities to train with Real Salt Lake and the Monarchs on occasion throughout the year before coming into preseason camp.
“I was new to the team and it was hard, but it was exciting to be with them. The team and the coaches made me feel like family and that made me more comfortable and more confident,” Garcia said. “It’s exciting for any player in that position. Once a few days go by, you get more confident. You are around a lot of talented players and you have to get to their level.”
Juarez credits the players for their maturity in adapting to the increased level of play, but also to the RSL Academy staff, led by Arnold Rijsenburg, who create as professional an environment as possible at the Academy to help ease the transition.
“They seem to mesh a lot better. Maybe that’s the generation, but I think I would also give some credit to Arnold and what the club has done to help that transition,” Jaurez said. “It’s a progression and so it isn’t such a dramatic jump. They mesh in with the guys on the team and they are a little more accepting.”
Thus far in camp, Davis and Garcia are in the thick of competition for playing time on the field while Dillon, Farnsworth and Orozco are gaining valuable experience in working with professionals every day. As the team reintegrates the six players who were away on international duty, including three from the RSL Academy who represented the U.S. at the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying tournament, it is further assurance to the players that playing at the RSL Academy comes with a progression plan to prepare them to reach their goals for club and country.