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RSL’s homegrown players: Who’s who, and who could be great

A who’s who guide to the Homegrown players on the RSL roster

Real Salt Lake v Sporting Kansas City Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

For years, Real Salt Lake was a bit of an oxymoron. Famous for an unique and innovative academy system that won a ton of games, that success had failed to translate into first team minutes for more than a few young guys, and even those players mostly failed to develop. Instead, fans watched as teams like FC Dallas won trophies (though not the trophy) in large part due to their commitment to youth.

As part of the current establishment’s rebuild in response to missing the playoffs in 2015, Craig Waibel and Co have doubled down on youth and established a more cohesive pipeline from academy to first team, one that will be further streamlined when the Herriman academy is completed. In 2017 RSL will field one of the deepest teams to ever take the pitch at Rio Tinto, and that is due largely to the Homegrown influence across the board. Here are a look at the current Homegrowns on the senior roster and the impact they will have on the upcoming season.

It’s not you, it’s Nick

Lalo Fernandez

MLS: Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Things Lalo Fernandez and I have in common:

  1. We have both been to Utah
  2. Neither of us have ever made an appearance in an Major League Soccer match

Things that differ between Lalo and I:

  1. Fernandez is 6’3”, and I am 5’9”(on a good day)
  2. He has catlike reflexes and I mostly take cat naps
  3. He is from Mexico and I was born in Ogden

I have a feeling that within the next few years Mr. Fernandez and I will have even less in common (but we’ll always have Utah). The product of Real Salt Lake’s academy is the veteran of our homegrown contingent at 24 years old, and although he has yet to feature in MLS action, he has played in 40+ professional matches with the Real Monarchs. It is common for a goalkeeper to be an understudy for awhile before earning the #1 spot, and Fernandez has had the privilege of learning from arguably the best goalkeeper in MLS history. There will come a day when the Wall of the Wasatch departs, but it is not this day. Fernandez will be waiting when it comes.

Lots of Monarch minutes and a few cameos

Danilo Acosta

MLS: Preseason-Columbus Crew vs Real Salt Lake Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

It seems that Acosta is finding himself in the same dilemma that Jordan Allen has been stuck in for the past few years: what is his best position? The incredibly talented member of the US U-20 national team has shown the ability to play central defense, defensive midfield, and outside back without missing a beat and it is unclear what his best position may be.

Acosta may earn some first team minutes this season, but best case scenario is him playing a ton of Monarchs minutes and really figuring out what part of the field best fits his skill set. Whether he’s the successor to Kyle Beckerman or Tony Beltran, I’ll take it, but that development needs to happen organically, and the Monarchs are the best environment for that. Look for him to be a key member of Mike Petke’s squad and show some glimpses of that future potential.

Jose Hernandez

MLS: Portland Timbers vs Real Salt Lake USA TODAY Sports

Like Matt mentioned in both of his stock watch articles (here and here), Jose Hernandez has had an incredible preseason. The diminutive midfielder has gone shoulder to shoulder with veteran MLS players and more than held his ground. For those asking where this swashbuckling, midfield magician came from, Hernandez was the co-Pac 12 player of the year on a team that included the first overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft as well as the sixth overall pick. His potential at this young juncture of his career should have RSL fans salivating.

Like Acosta, Hernandez will likely find most of his minutes with the Monarchs this year which says more about RSL’s abundance of attacking options than it does the UCLA product’s skill level. The number 10 role for the Monarchs will be his to lose, and a year in USL action should sharpen his already dangerous skills as a playmaker.

Quality depth

Brooks Lennon

Brooks Lennon at Real Salt Lake training Courtesy of Real Salt Lake

The one that got away, but then came back, but also still might leave again. Regardless of how things play out at the end of 2017, it is fantastic to see Lennon back in Claret and Cobalt. The hidden son of Beatles front man John Lennon (there is no way to disprove that), Brooks has spent the last 18 months learning to make sweet music in the Liverpool U-23 setup and is now prepared to unleash that creativity on the unsuspecting defenses of Major League Soccer. How high are our expectations for Lennon? Let’s just say that legendary soccer writer Weston Jenson named him the 2nd best player to ever come out of the RSL academy AHEAD OF JUSTEN GLAD:

I’ll leave it at that.

(FWIW shocked Carlos Boozer is my third favorite Carlos Boozer and slots in just behind “accidentally punching people” Carlos Boozer. My favorite is “no longer on the Jazz” Carlos Boozer which is his final and Super Saiyan form)

Ricardo Velazco

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Real Salt Lake Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Another player who has really impressed in his preseason minutes, Velazco paid his dues with the Monarchs for two seasons before earning his chance with the 1st team. His highlight reel speaks for itself:

Velazco should be an impact sub on the wing from day one and may even find himself starting a few games.

Sebastian Saucedo

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

“Bofo” Saucedo is one of the most heralded players to ever come through the academy in Casa Grande. The attacker has done nothing but score stunning goals and had the audacity to do this in a Generation adidas Cup match in 2014:

Saucedo won the Golden Boot and Golden Ball at that tournament as he led the team to a second place finish, losing to Stoke City in the final on penalty kicks (RSL beat Stoke on pks in the group stage). After a loan to Veracruz last season, Saucedo is back in the picture and will look to earn first team minutes when he returns from international duty.

Season defining

Jordan Allen

MLS: Real Salt Lake vs Minnesota United FC Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The swiss army knife has finally settled down into a starting spot on the right wing, but the former Virginia Cavalier has to remain at the top of his game to hold off the competition. He has done just that so far in the preseason by earning two penalty kicks as well as putting away two goals, including this classy finish to salvage a tie against Vancouver.

Allen will look to establish himself as a starter, and maybe even star, in this 2017 version of Real Salt Lake and definitely has the skill to do so. His progress will be one of the key stories as RSL begins the season.

Justen Glad

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The Ender Wiggins of the academy graduates, Glad secured a starting spot last year in the midst of a backline injury crisis and has never looked back. He has 33 career MLS starts as a teenager, and is one of the most promising central defenders in the league.

Much of Real Salt Lake’s success this season will depend on how Glad handles this next step in his career, and who Jeff Cassar elects to play next to him in the center of the defense. Glad is clearly RSL’s defender of the future and if he keeps improving, senior level US call ups could be around the corner.

What would you like to see from the Homegrowns this season? Let us know in the comments!