Real Salt Lake's Arizona-based under-18s side isn't just good — they're probably the best youth team in the nation.
Over their 39-game season, they averaged over four goals scored per game. No, that's not a typo. They scored 161 goals, conceded only 33, and lost only three matches.
That's pretty strong for a development team, and they showed some stern stuff in a 2-2 draw today with the next step in Real Salt Lake development, Real Monarchs.
Facing Real Monarchs in an exhibition at Rio Tinto Stadium was designed as a test for the team before they enter the 2015 USSDA playoffs, which starts in short order — and it's one the that team took with a firm grasp.
In fact, they opened the scoring against the professionals in the 11th minute, and truth be told, they looked like the better side for most of the first half. Edgar Duran, who scored 20 goals in development academy action, took an optimistic shot from the edge of the box that smacked against the far post, then against the near post, then into the net.
Before Real Monarchs could equalize, RSL-AZ's Tate Schmitt dribbled around goalkeeper Eric Osswald and hit the side netting from a difficult angle, preventing a more seemingly surprising scoreline.
Only three minutes later, Monarchs midfielder Alec Sundly turned and finished his shot in the box to level the score, but it was Riley McGovern's play from the left back position that provided the opportunity.
The start of the second half saw a slew of changes for Real Monarchs and none for the under-18s — and as a result, the game started to skew a little more toward the professionals and a little less toward the youngsters, whose fitness levels were high, but perhaps not high enough to outplay an entirely fresh side after 45 minutes of blistering action.
Eti Tavares, the talented winger who loves to run at players, did just that, and it won the team a free kick on the edge of the box. Up to dispatch that was another left back, Jordan Murrell, whose free kick was on the spectacular side.
The match continued with the Monarchs largely retaining control, but with the U-18s starting to build more and more dangerous opportunities, and eventually, they finished one of those. Edgar Duran earned a brace, but it was in somewhat bizarre fashion, as he looked to only barely beat Victor Rodriguez to the ball inside the box to finish a chance. Colliding with the sizable goalkeeper left him in a heap and in some clear pain.
It was a showcase for the state of Real Salt Lake's development efforts — and, in a broader sense, for American player development. While it's not unusual for there to be a particularly good side every once in a while — that's just part of the ebb and flow — the style and class of the youngsters should be the most impressive part. This isn't just a side with players that can go far — it's a side with players that almost undoubtedly will go far.