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FC Barcelona partners with Grande Sports for Arizona residential academy

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RSL’s former academy partners have moved on to a bigger name. What will it mean for RSL?

2017 Lionel Messi China Tour Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

The former site of Real Salt Lake’s residential academy in Casa Grande, Ariz., is getting big, new tenants: FC Barcelona.

Yes, that Barcelona.

That’s according to a release from the Spanish club (or, if you will, Catalan club), which states that the academy will also compete in the USSDA structure. The academy will serve players between ages 12 and 19.

This is an interesting move not just for the magnitude of the name now behind the academy. When RSL announced the Herriman, Utah move for their residential academy, there was some uncertainty about what would happen to Grande Sports Academy. Arizona remains inside RSL’s homegrown territory, although that would almost certainly change if an MLS team in Arizona gets off the ground.

Some of the staff remained in place at Grande Sports, but the coaching staff has been slated for the Utah move — and that includes Martin Vasquez, the academy director who has been visionary in the development of several key players.

We’ll see what — if anything — this means for Real Salt Lake. Will players from Arizona opt for a European-sponsored academy in Barcelona, or will they opt for a successful developmental program in RSL? The club’s track record in developing young talent is certainly not to La Masia levels, but there have been numerous professional players to come out of the system.

The play for Barcelona is pretty clear: It continues to establish a major foothold for the European giant in America, where they’ve steadily expanded. It also gives them an easier crack at young American players, of which Barcelona has none. It’s more likely than not a financial strategy coming out here, although having an opportunity to sign the best American talent could be an excellent play for the future.

And if you need evidence that marketing is a big component, you need look no further than Barcelona’s press release:

The arrival of this new project to the United States reinforces the Club’s expansion that has been ongoing since last September, including the opening of the Club’s New York office and other sports-related projects that FC Barcelona has undertaken in the region, like the recent announcement of the creation of a team in the National Women's Soccer League, the country’s top flight.

Perhaps Barcelona succeeds in making their name synonymous with soccer in America — although for the sake of Real Salt Lake, let’s hope that we continue attracting the top talented Arizona-based players to our academy.