SANDY, Utah – Jordan Allen’s unique path to Real Salt Lake is by now relatively well-known in MLS circles. What is perhaps less celebrated is just how unique the 20-year-old Homegrown Player is on the field.
RSL head coach Jeff Cassar describes his up-and-coming star, a member of the US team at the 2015 U-20 World Cup, as an “old soul,” saying his maturity, intelligence and immense talent will only grow as he becomes a larger part of Real Salt Lake.
A quiet and serious person, Allen showed a foresight beyond his years when he left his hometown of Rochester, New York, an area short on high-level development opportunities, intent on becoming an elite player.
He first landed at US Soccer's Under-17 Residency Program in Bradenton, Florida, before heading west to join RSL’s Arizona academy. It was there that he immediately stood out for his cerebral approach to the game.
“There were always times when he was asking, ‘How do you see this? How can we do this?’ and even helping the guys who weren’t quite getting it,” said current Real Monarchs head coach Freddy Juarez, who coached Allen at the academy level. “He was always thinking about the game, almost like a teacher of sorts. I think that's how you see him when he’s on the field and he’s playing. He’s finding good areas to play.
“He’s just one of those intellectual players that in our country are hard to find. That’s what makes him a little bit different.”
Allen says Juarez was a big reason for his decision to come to the Arizona academy in the first place, crediting him for much of his development into a professional.
“The big thing with Freddy is that he makes sure you keep a high standard,” Allen said. “When you’re doing that day in, day out, it naturally pays dividends. Also, he was really good at improving my awareness on the field, my decision-making, really just my overall game. So I’m always grateful for him and still, to this day, asking him for advice whenever I can.”
Allen came away from the academy with impressive versatility that earned him the nickname, “Swiss Army knife,” for his ability to play all over the field. He returned to Rochester to finish high school in 2013 under an agreement that allowed Real Salt Lake to retain his Homegrown Player rights, then spent one semester at the University of Virginia before signing a first-team contract on Dec. 31, 2013.
Since moving to the pro ranks, Allen has played at forward, winger, fullback and even centrally in the midfield in his 24 MLS appearances with the first team – 22 of those this year after his rookie season was cut short due to a knee injury. His skill set allows him to be effective at many different positions, and Cassar says Allen rarely makes the same mistake twice.
“Whether you’re playing him right back, left back, right wing, attacking mid, he seems to come through,” Cassar said. “He’s getting better all the time. He still makes mistakes at times, has a little bit of ups and downs, but he puts them behind him relatively quickly and gets on. That’s what I think a lot of the young players can learn from him.”
As far as Allen is concerned, his preferred position is up front, contributing to the attack; he has a goal and two assists to his name in his young career. He makes no bones about the fact that he doesn’t prefer to play fullback, but he has no problem filling in if it’s what the team needs.
“It’s more about the team,” Allen said. “If I have to play outside back to help the team, that’s fine. But I think in the future and long term, either in midfield or out wide a little higher up the field is where I prefer to be.”
Regardless, Allen is happiest when he’s on the field, wherever that may be. The game has always been a part of his DNA, and it shows.
“I tried to find a hobby last year when I was hurt,” he said. “When it comes down to it, I’m a soccer guy. If I’m not on the field, I’m watching soccer, reading Arsenal blogs. It’s really just who I am. It’s what I grew up around, so I don’t really have much going on outside of soccer.”
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Allen is now only concerned with improving. His journey has led him from New York to Florida, from RSL’s Arizona academy to representing the US at the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand last spring, helping the Yanks to the quarterfinals.
Even though RSL are out of the race for the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs heading into their season finale Sunday at the Seattle Sounders (7 pm ET; ESPN3, MLS LIVE), there's no doubt that Allen's sophomore campaign has been a big step in his journey toward becoming one of the Claret-and-Cobalt's next big contributors.
“He’s confident in who he is,” Juarez said. “He’s not going to work extremely hard to go fit into a group, because he’s a leader. He’s not a follower. He’s going to set his standards, and if you want to be with Jordan Allen, you’re going to have to adapt to him.”