Ricardo Velazco's journey to Real Salt Lake proper — a move made official today — has been six years in the making.
It's a journey that would never happen without the 2010 establishment of Real Salt Lake's Arizona-based academy.
It's also a journey that took him from a regional competitor in Arizona club soccer, through a successful college program, into consistent USL PDL competition, and placed him at an MLS affiliate USL team for nearly two years.
In a club-issued press release, Velazco described his journey to Real Salt Lake.
"This means the world for me and my family. This has been a dream for me and my dad for a long time," Velazco said. "I had a very unique route and there have always been eyes on me. I told myself along the way that it's never over unless I give up and I'm glad I took the route that I did and I'm thankful for the mentors I had that helped me along the way."
It's the sort of developmental process that MLS teams have dreamed about since coming into being over two decades ago: a multi-tiered, gradual process that presents less risk for player and club by giving them concrete steps and processes to follow.
He's the first homegrown signing for Real Salt Lake that went through every level of that process — other homegrown players have skipped rungs, and it's made it difficult for some to make the transition successfully.
A graduate of said academy, Velazco calls Casa Grande, Ariz., home. That's where the academy was established, at Grande Sports World, and it's a small town between Phoenix and Tucson. A real blink-and-you've-missed-the-exit sort of place.
Velazco's journey with Real Salt Lake started early: The 23-year-old attacker hails from Casa Grande, Ariz., where the academy is currently located.
He was part of the first truly great team at Grande Sports Academy, playing in the 2010-11 campaign for the U-18 side coached by Greg Vanney, who is now in his third year coaching Toronto FC. That was the first campaign in which the club played in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
In fact, Velazco joins two colleagues on the first team from his academy time: Phanuel Kavita and Lalo Fernandez. He also leaves behind at Real Monarchs two others from that campaign as well, in Mikey Orellana and Eti Tavares. His 2011-12 campaign saw him play alongside first-teamers Jordan Allen and former Real Salt Lake defender Carlos Salcedo.
From the academy, Velazco joined the ranks at Cal State San Bernardino in 2012, where he scored six goals and quickly attracted the attention of Louisville. where current Monarchs player Andrew Brody was playing at the time.
At Louisville, he scored seven goals and contributed nine assists in his first year, leading the team as a sophomore. (That season, Brody scored three goals and contributed nine assists, as well.) As a junior, his raw output decreased slightly in 2014 to six goals and five assists.
In addition to his college play, he was also a standout with PDL side FC Tucson, where he remains a cult hero — both because of his excellent play and because he called the area home.
After his 2014 campaign with Louisville, talks began between Real Salt Lake and Velazco, and he participated in preseason training with the club before signing with Real Monarchs.