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Harnessing Youth: Five players RSL developed into MLS veterans

Real Salt Lake’s influence has turned some young players into MLS veterans.

Real Salt Lake v Columbus Crew Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

As the list of Homegrown Players on franchise rosters continues to grow around the league, it has certainly proven to be a watershed moment for Major League Soccer. Instituting expansion initiatives heavily during 2007, the league has made domestic development a top priority. MLS, consequently, has grown rapidly in the last ten years and has starting drawing more and more talented youngsters into the league that have otherwise might have pursed opportunities abroad. Still, an unprecedented number of raising stars have grown up in the academies of the league.

Therefore, we decided to take a look at players that Real Salt Lake have developed into MLS starting caliber players. There is one contingency, however, this article will refrain from the homegrown talent currently on the roster that has just started to find success with the club (i.e., Jordan Allen and Justen Glad) and will instead focus on players that have gone into their prime, leaving an inescapable mark on the league.

5. Collen Warner

MLS: Houston Dynamo at San Jose Earthquakes John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Warner was drafted 15th overall by RSL during the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. Raised in Denver and then spending his college years in Portland, Warner was privileged to play for both the Colorado Rapids and Timbers U-23s squads. Strong in possession, RSL looked to use him as a midfield shuttler in the 4-4-2 diamond formation.

Like many of RSL’s draft picks, Warner set further down the depth chart than we would have probably liked making mostly substitute appearances early in his time with RSL. Coming off a disappointing rookie season that saw him go without either a goal or an assist in 426 minutes, Warner earned himself a larger role with the Claret-and-Cobalt. In stark contrast to a sophomore slump, Warner tallied five assists and more than doubled his playing time (1106 minutes). The midfielder was left unprotected in the 2011 MLS Expansion Draft, however, and resulted in him departing for Montreal.

He quickly gained recognition in Canada he rightly craved and went on to be a regular starter for both the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC. Last season he was shipped to the Huston Dynamo where again he found a starting role. Even though his time was cut short in Salt Lake, Warner capitalized on lessons from Kyle Beckerman and Jean Alexandre, propelling him to be a starting caliber central midfielder.

4. David Horst

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The 6-foot-4 defender was drafted 14th overall in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft by the Claret-and-Cobalt. Having spent time in the USL Premier Development League during his college career, Horst was seen to have plenty of potential by coaching staff. Not only was the youngster strong in the air, but also level headed as he rarely garnered disciplinary action from the referees.

Horst struggled to earn time during his first stint with RSL. Behind the newly acquired Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave in the depth charts, Horst made his professional debut and only rookie appearance late in the season against the Houston Dynamo – the team that he spent the last three seasons with. He performed rather blandly as his side conceded four goals in what ultimately ended in a 4-3 loss. He would play twice more for RSL before he was taken by the Portland Timbers in the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft.

Despite his limited first-team playing time with the Claret-and-Cobalt, Horst was learned skills while at the club that helped him earn a starting role with both the Timbers and Dynamo – even making an All-Star appearance. He became a threat on either side of the ball scoring five times in his ten-year tenure and earning 23 shutouts in his past three years. A fan favorite because of his fiery nature and tenacious tackling, he will definitely be an asset for RSL in 2017.

3. Chris Schuler

MLS: Real Salt Lake at San Jose Earthquakes Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Injuries aside, Chris Schuler has been a real developmental success for Real. However, nagging bugs have kept him from reaching his full potential at times and that is why Schuler is not higher on our list.

Schuler was a late college draft pick in the third round of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. Earning countless accolades while at his alma mater, Creighton University, this Blue Jay was destined to soar. Like Horst before him, Schuler struggled to find time behind one of the most dominate defensive pairings in MLS History (Bochers-Olave). He too only made one appearance his rookie season before being sent on a developmental loan to AC St. Louis.

Undoubtedly invigorated by his success in the lower divisions, Schuler earned more responsibilities in his second year with the club. He found his feet early in the 2011 season scoring his first professional goal on April 9, against the New England Revolution. His prominence with the club continued to grow that season as he totaled 26 appearances across all competitions that year.

The injury bug finally caught up to him in the 2012 season, however, cutting his playing time by nearly 700 minutes. He would continue to battle injuries for two season while still helping the Claret-and-Cobalt reach the 2013 MLS Cup Final. It appeared that he had finally put the injury bug to bed in 2014, but it was not to be as he would miss most of the 2015 season from lingering issues.

Once a promising player, it appeared Schuler’s time was up at RSL in November 2015. Never staying healthy long enough to justify his role with the club, Real opted out of renewing his contract and allowed it to expire. He remained out of the spotlight for the first half of 2016 before he emerged as the latest signing of the Real Monarchs. He played nine matches for RSL’s United Soccer League affiliate before inking a new contract with the parent club. He finished 2016 playing in four regular season matches for RSL and the club’s only post-season match.

Overcoming many obstacles throughout his career, Schuler has persevered through it all. At one time he was considered a national team quality defender, although he never received a call-up, and designated an All-Star, but health complications stopped him from reaching his potential. Nevertheless, the development system that RSL has in place has allowed this player to find a home in the franchise as fans and staff alike hope Schuler will once again be considered a top-tier player in the league.

2. Will Johnson

MLS: Montreal Impact at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Before joining RSL at the tender age of 21, Will Johnson had already had a vast reservoir of soccer experience. Grandson to Bolton Wanders FA Cup winning Brian Birch, Johnson soccer development stretched well into his childhood. Johnson was born in Canada, but raised near Liverpool, before finally settling near Chicago. At seventeen, he was on the roster of the Chicago Fire Reserves, but did not feature in any PDL matches.

In 2005, Johnson was signed as a discovery player by the Chicago Fire to a one-year contract. During his time with the Fire, he scored one goal and appeared in six matches. Spurning the opportunity to continue in MLS, Johnson took his services to Heerenveen of the Dutch Eredivisie. Once there he continued to spend the majority of his time on the bench before being loaned to De Graafschap of the Dutch second-division. Again he made mostly substitute appearances but he helped his become champions, and thus earning promotion. Upon his return to Heerenveen, Johnson was offered a contract by Real Salt Lake in 2008, which he accepted.

One of the more experienced development players to sign with RSL, then-head coach Jason Kreis sought to further his development under the watchful eyes of Andy Williams. Johnson grew into important shoes along the left touchline as another shuttler in the diamond midfield. He consistently earned over 2000 first-team minutes with the exception of his rookie year. At RSL Johnson developed into a strong two-way player, which made him a prime target for new Portland head coach Caleb Porter. Wanting to emulate the possession-based style of RSL, Porter knew that Johnson was a player he could count on in his modified midfield plan.

Following his time with the Claret-and-Cobalt, Johnson continued to demonstrate exceptional concentration conceding very few personal errors. He also moved the ball and maintained possession for his side, something he mimicked from his time working with Beckerman and Javier Morales. His early experiences with soccer, combined with the development opportunities that RSL afforded a young player, made Johnson one of the strongest North American midfielders currently in the league.

1. Tony Beltran

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

A California boy born and raised, Tony Beltran has become one of the longest tenured members of the RSL franchise. In his youth he played as a striker before making the move to right back during college. Earning a starting role with RSL, he has also been one of the most consistent players on the roster, playing in 80 percent of the club’s matches since 2009. Unlike Will Johnson who played for three other teams before coming to the Claret-and-Cobalt, Beltran has earned his designation as both a franchise player and a one-club man.

Selected third in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, RSL knew they could develop this tactically smart and very-solid 1-v-1 defender. Under the tutelage of Robbie Russell, Beltran became one of the most disciplined defenders in the league. He constantly looked to win the ball and keep possession for his side. He found first-team minutes hard to come by in his first professional season, but started in over half of the matches leading to the Claret-and-Cobalt’s 2009 title run.

Before Russell departed for D.C., Beltran could never break the 2000-minute threshold in a season. Since then, however, he has averaged just north of 2500 minutes a season. As stated before, since joining RSL, Tony has earned a reputation for being one of the steadiest full backs in the league and stalwart for the Claret-and-Cobalt. While he is not the type of player that frequently flies up the wing to provide an offensive outlet for RSL, he consistently helps facilitate many of RSL’s move from his spot on the back line. Beltran is the gold standard for RSL development and could be the model for young talent such as Jordan Allen, Justen Glad, Danny Acosta, and many more to emulate.

The Team is the Star here in Salt Lake, and Beltran knows just how it can lead to success.

What do you think? Who are players that you think RSL developed well? Did we get it right, or were we way off-base? Share your thoughts in the comments below.