One year and some-odd days after signing his first professional contract, Jordan Allen is making his first start a week after scoring his first goal.
Nine months of injury layoff after he first went under the knife to fix a microfracture in his right knee, Allen had a good preseason with RSL, and he took that form into the first few games of the season. He's played three matches as a late substitute, and it was his last one that saw him placed firmly in the ascendency.
But it wasn't an easy journey. Allen's climb to this level has shown him as the symbol of the Real Salt Lake academy. He was one of the first players to truly impress there, and he didn't come from another professional club before that. He played his two years with the academy, and during that time, he was one of the more impressive players in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy system — often being ranked in the top ten, five, or reaching the very top spot by American youth soccer experts Top Drawer Soccer.
While Allen's start comes because Jaime is unavailable, it's also that Joao Plata is absent with a broken foot. There's an interesting bit of parallelism that it was Plata that exited the match for Jordan Allen to make his first professional appearance in the opening match in 2014 against LA Galaxy.
Allen is an example of the best American youth development has to offer. He's been through so many tiers of play: Two years of academy play, intermittent reserves matches, a year of NCAA play at University of Virginia, and a consistent member of United States youth national teams from the U-15s to the U-20s.
But as much as we wax poetic about Allen's development, it's also a testament to Allen's perseverance. His injury layoff might've sent other young players spiraling, but he came back better. Earlier this year, he told our very own Randal Serr about his absence.
The injury allowed me to take a step back and learn in a way that I previously never had before. I would watch our games at the Rio Tinto and study a specific player and their movements each night. Paying specific attention to the way that guys like Plata and Grabavoy create space and make decisions on the ball I think is something that will benefit me moving forward.
Allen is the rare level-headed young player, and his future in the game is the clear benefactor of hard work, intelligence, and an understanding of the game beyond his years. His start today is just an ongoing indication of that fact.