Four years ago, Freddy Juarez and a handful of players drove from Las Cruces, New Mexico to the Grande Sports Academy for what would be the inaugural season of the Real Salt Lake Arizona Academy.
Not knowing what to expect and living hundreds of miles away from family and friends, both Academy teams quickly bonded and became one of the few Academies in the nation to qualify the U-16 and U-18 teams for the playoffs. The U-16 team would eventually advance all the way to the final group round and finish third in the country.
For Juarez, the third place finish was a watershed moment. It was the day the foundation was laid for the continued success of the Real Salt Lake Academy.
Juarez recently spoke to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy about the benefits of a residency setup. When commenting on how winning the U-16 national championship last season showed the development process working at the GSA, Juarez said, “You always know you have a good team, and when you’re competitive and doing the right thing, it makes everyone else believe. The players came close in our first year when we got third, and you hope the players buy into it. You don’t have to be a residency program to win, but it’s been a huge part of our success. The training five times a week, the locker room camaraderie, it makes a difference.”
Because of the success the Real Salt Lake Academy team has had in the past three seasons, numerous players have represented their countries on the national team level. After the U-16 team won the championship, four players from the Claret-and-Cobalt earned an invitation to a U.S. Soccer National Combine: Justen Glad, Josh Doughty, Sebastian “Bofo” Saucedo, and Brooks Lennon.
Juarez then spoke about how Real Salt Lake takes notice and gives the Academy players other opportunists as well.
“The first team takes notice of that, as well. Glad was training with the first team for about a week and a half. It’s good that they’re getting the recognition and opportunities.”
The biggest task for Juarez and the other coaches: Tony Bruce, Mike Kraus and Ignacio Hernandez is teaching the style of play to the new players at the beginning of the season The U-18 team is dominantly comprised of players who have had a year or more of residency life. On the other hand, the U-16s always have more than a few new faces.
“Preseason has been going really well for the past two weeks now. We’re a little different from other programs in that we don’t have a full (pre-Academy) club where the teams are joining from underneath. We teach them to know our style as we produce a new base. It’s been positive, and seeing a good core of the U-15/16s moving up to the U-17/18s is always good to see. Overall, it should be a good year.”
The Real Salt Lake academy teams will kick the season off on the road against San Juan Soccer Club on Saturday, September 21st.