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Homegrown Players: Growing the future of Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake is embracing the future of American soccer, one homegrown player at a time.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at San Jose Earthquakes Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

A quick glance at Real Salt Lake’s 2017 roster reveals the largest cohort of homegrown players in the team’s history. In fact, eight homegrown players are listed on this year’s roster.

  • Danilo Acosta
  • Jordan Allen
  • Lalo Fernandez
  • Justen Glad
  • Jose Hernandez
  • Brooks Lennon
  • Sebastian Saucedo
  • Ricardo Velazco

With this many players holding the homegrown player designation and with the soon-to-be-open Herriman academy, it is more important for us to understand the homegrown player rule than ever before.

The rule, established back in 2008, says that in order for a player to receive a homegrown designation they must have lived in that club’s home territory and participated in the club’s youth development system for at least one year. As far as MLS rules go, this one’s pretty clear-cut.

The question then remains as to why the signing of homegrown players is and will continue to play an important role in the success of Real Salt Lake. Like almost everything in professional sports, the answer comes down to the money. However, there’s perhaps a little more to it than that.

The money

Soccer in MLS is a game played with financial calculators long before anyone steps out onto the pitch. Understanding of salary budgets, designated players, roster rules, targeted and general allocation money, etc. nearly requires a master’s degree in finance. As far as homegrown players are concerned, it basically comes down to this simpler explanation: Homegrown players can be paid more without taking a hit on the salary cap, which frees up more money to bring in additional, more expensive players.

RSL Soapbox writer Howie Smith does a great job of illustrating this benefit in his article Navigating MLS’s Supplemental, Reserve Roster Rules. In it, he explains, “Jordan Allen can make $187,500 and not count against the salary budget. Compare that to Joao Plata ($175,000) or Luke Mulholland ($160,000), all of which counted against the salary budget.”

There is no limit to the number of homegrown players a team may sign in any given year. The budget benefit is, however, somewhat limited by the fact that there have only been four supplemental and four reserve roster slots which do not count towards salary cap totals. This benefit continues to grow as MLS announced in December of last year that two more homegrown spots would be added to the roster, increasing total roster size to 30 players.

The salary of homegrown players listed on the senior roster will still count toward the overall budget cap (unless bought down with targeted or general allocation money).

The players

Signing homegrowns is about more than just the money. Players who have come up through a team’s academy or development system are already familiar with the team’s approach and style of play. These players are well-versed and practiced in the first team’s formation and style and therefore require less time to integrate effectively into first-team minutes.

Additionally, coaches have a much greater insight into what to expect from a homegrown player both on and off the field. When Real Salt Lake signed Justen Glad, then a 17-year-old kid, to a homegrown contract back in 2014, their coaching staff already had two years of information on him. They saw his potential as a player on the field, but also had a great insight into the kind of team member he would be off the field and in the locker room.

Homegrown players are well-known to the team and as an added benefit can be picked up without relying on the draft. Jose Hernandez, who played two years at UCLA, would have likely gone pretty high in the draft, but because he went the the academy in Arizona, RSL was able to sign him prior to the draft.

The fans

There’s something about a local boy that fans can really get behind. It may be a familiar face that we’ve seen coming up through the academy ranks. It may be the hope that it gives us that we or our own kids could find the same kind of success. It may just be the knowledge that our team really is part of our community and that our community is part of our team. Whatever it is, it feels good to see a local boy succeed.

Look at homegrown player Sebastian Saucedo, who signed to the club back in July of 2014. One would be hard-pressed to find any articles of Saucedo’s signing that didn’t mention the fact that he was from Park City, Utah. In fact, many articles were centered around that very fact. Fans love to see a local out on the pitch. And after all, that’s what development systems, academies, and homegrown players are all about. Isn’t it?