HERRIMAN, Utah – Uniting Real Salt Lake’s soccer pyramid under one roof might have cost more than RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen expected.
But with the grand opening of the Zions Bank Training Center on Wednesday, the payoff can now begin as the academy starts feeding the first team from down the hall instead of a state away.
RSL have already shown their academy can provide quality players for the first team and for US youth national teams, but building on that success will provide RSL an even greater opportunity to attract top talent and compete for titles, Hansen believes.
“We’re not LA. We’re not New York. We’re not Atlanta, are we? We’re Utah,” Hansen said. “That makes us special. We’re the Green Bay Packers of soccer. You’ve got to look at it that way. We’ve got to do something special for our players, for our community and for the world to look at, so why not just set the goal that we’ll be the very best training facility in the United States.”
Salt Lake appear to have reached that bar with two academy teams, their USL team, MLS squad and an NWSL team all under one roof, alongside academy housing and a charter high school.
“He wanted to create a state-of-the-art training ground to in essence bring the soccer pyramid to life, and he’s delivered on that in ways that all of us are very impressed,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “I think it’s just spectacular.”
While the RSL academy and the connected pyramid may be a crown jewel, the infrastructure still has to help the first team achieve its goals. It's not realistic field a team just with the players who come through the academy.
“Salt Lake is a small market, and small markets have to have things that they offer top players, the Rusnaks of the world,” Garber said. “You’re not going to have the lights of New York or the beach in LA, but you’re going to have something here that’s unprecedented.”
For every top-tier player that may come out of the academy there are many more who will add depth to the roster, be an asset in the locker room and a part of the community.
“We think as we get good at picking the kids who go into the academy, and training them through the academy I think you’re going to see of 32 players on the roster maybe 10 of them came through our academy," Hansen said. "I think 10 to 12 would be a big number.”
Salt Lake provided 25 percent of the US U-20 national team last year, so who’s to say 33 percent of an MLS squad isn’t achievable in the near future? But that third of the first team has to be of the quality to play with and attract other great players from outside the academy.
“We want to make sure we can field a team in Utah that’s worthy of playing against the best in the world,” Hansen said.