For Real Salt Lake head coach Freddy Juarez, the league's hiatus has forced him and his staff to get creative when it comes to scouting potential signings and how to continue developing their academy players.
Speaking in a conference call over Zoom with reporters on Thursday, Juarez said the unexpected stoppage in play has left the club with time to work towards a goal that he's been thinking about for a while: Namely, figuring out how to mold the first team and the academy together into a singular, cohesive unit. That includes fine-tuning a clear idea of the types of players for the scouting department to target that will fit with the club's culture and identity, but also imparting those qualities onto to the academy players and developing them in the same mold.
It's something the club was already trying implement before the season was postponed, but with the time off, Juarez said he and his staff are trying to use it to accelerate the process.
"We're putting this whole package together, style of play, club identity, player profiles, club culture — it seemed like the right time now with all this time [off]," Juarez said. "It's been very time-consuming. Included in there is a curriculum for the academy and all that. We're trying to get everything connected as opposed to what it's been in the past which has been a little bit of, not separation, but kind of everybody working on their own island in a way. We're maybe more connected than some clubs but we really want it to be tied in where it's the same message, it's the same terminology."
As for scouting prospective new signings with the soccer world paused, Juarez said that it's a tricky task, but that the club has developed in-depth player profiles and is monitoring clubs throughout the whole world for players that could be the right fit.
"There's a player profile now that's clear for [the staff] to identify players and that's what they're doing right now," Juarez said. "They're monitoring the whole world. There's clubs that are going bankrupt, who knows what that's going to do to players and their contract, so that's all dialogue and conversations that we've been having and monitoring to see what's available out there."
The first priority though, Juarez said, is continuing to try to develop players from within as best they can, which he said carries even more importance than usual in these uncertain times.
"This stuff, economically it makes impacts on people," he said. "I think we're on the front foot and cutting edge where we're developing players with the understanding that sometimes more clubs are going to try to do this where they're developing our own players because of whatever impact this has financially. FC Dallas has been leading in that, ourselves, so this puts us in a situation where there's even more value to the academy because we're going to continue to need to develop.
"So there's been a lot of conversation with us in the last weeks of putting a player profile together, plus style of play and principles and that's crucial for development from the academy up into the first team."
One thing the club is doing in pursuit of that goal is interactions between the academy players and the first team, similar to the program FC Cincinnati director of player development Larry Sunderland outlined last week.
Juarez said that the first player to make a presentation to the academy players was defender Justen Glad, who hosted a Zoom call with some of the club's U-17 and U-19 players and staff where he outlined his own journey through the academy system and the philosophical principles the coaches have been teaching the first-teamers during the layoff. He then did a Q&A session where he took questions from the academy players. Juarez said he was pleased both with Glad's presentation and the questions the academy kids came up with and that it's something that he's probably going to continue doing going forward.
We thought it would be a great opportunity for a player to teach what he's been learning," Juarez said. "We figured if you can teach it then you're really grasping what we're trying to teach them. He did a heck of a job. It was a good exercise, the idea is to do a couple more of those."