SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake management has high hopes for Justen Glad. Eventually.
The 17-year-old defender – a product of RSL's Arizona Academy – signed a Homegrown player contract with the parent team on Monday, and general manager Garth Lagerwey is hoping the youngster will grow to fill some pretty big shoes.
“Could I see him in the mix to help when Kyle [Beckerman] departs in four or five years? Sure,” Lagerwey told MLSsoccer.com. “That's the best-case scenario. And somewhere in between is center back next to [defender Chris] Schuler for the next decade or something like that.”
Salt Lake coach Jeff Cassar said he's excited to have him.
“He's somebody that's really respected by the guys on the team,” Cassar told reporters. “Every time we had him in preseason or reserve-team games, he did a fantastic job. I just expect him to grow and flourish in our environment.”
But before he's thrust into the spotlight in a meaningful way, “He's got to finish his junior year of high school,” Lagerwey said.
“At this late stage, it's logistically easier for him to do that [at the RSL academy] in Arizona," the GM continued. "There are practical considerations on the soccer side as well, which is that he's a big part of our teams that are in the playoffs.”
A year ago, Glad scored the winning goal in the final of the US Soccer Development Academy championship. And the plan is to have him continue to play as the Academy teams pursue more tournament titles this season.
“We've been talking about having him finish his commitment to the academy down in Arizona, which I think is huge,” Cassar said. “And help the academy win another championship.”
Although neither the coach nor the general manager indicated Glad will see any playing time anytime soon, neither ruled it out. Until the academy tournaments are over in June, Glad will “bounce back and forth between Arizona and us,” Lagerwey said.
Short-term logistics aside, RSL's coach and GM expect Glad to contribute to the team in the long-term. Although exactly what position he'll play may not be decided anytime soon.
“I suspect short-term, he'll play where we need him,” Lagerwey said. “Long-term, he'll grow into the position that he's best at. If you put a gun to my head, I'd say center back right now. If he grows six inches, that's going to be a no-brainer.”
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Glad is 6 feet tall and a slender 145 pounds, and he's grown “an inch or two” in the past six months.
“If he doesn't grow at all and he gets a lot stronger, could he play holding mid? Sure,” Lagerwey said.
By design, RSL management does not want to force the teenager into a mold. And what with the team's current depth at center back, outside back and holding midfielder, there doesn't appear to be any need to rush him onto the field and into games.
“I think it's good news that there's no pressure on him to play right away,” Lagerwey said. “And I think it's, hopefully, good news that as we sign one or two kids a year, we say, 'Come join us. Develop. And we will see what your future is.'”