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Soccer Dynamics Changing in Salt Lake County

Aug 04, 2016 04:05PM ● Published by Greg James

Utah Surf 14-year-olds wait their turn at the Impact United tournament. The Surf won the match 9-0. – Greg James

Gallery: Soccer Dynamics Changing in Salt Lake County [4 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Greg James  gregj@mycityjournals.com


In April, Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen announced plans to build a world-class training center in Herriman. Youth soccer players across the Wasatch Front stand to benefit from it.

“Our goal has been to create a program for youth training and academy training that is equal to anything you can find in Europe at an elite soccer academy—Ajax, Barcelona and England,” Hansen said. “We have looked at them very closely. We have come to the belief that building from the ground up, developing the local talent and training that talent to an elite level will lead to a very strong sense of connection with our community and the team.” 

Academies have become the lifeblood of the sport. While some teams use theirs to develop young talent, others use them to help balance the financial books. Either way, for the teams that get it right, a productive academy can be crucial for long term success.

Creating a successful academy is no easy feat. Some clubs have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into their youth setups with very little reward. The right facilities, coaching and recruitment must be in place before a club can produce genuine talent. 

In the soccer economy in which we now live, it seems many clubs would rather buy the talent than take the time to develop young players. A strong academy can give you an advantage over other teams.

“Where we are going is so promising, so development oriented, so family and growth oriented. Really, it is grassroots,” RSL General Manager Craig Waibel said. “We are laying down the possibility to help develop this state, which we take a lot of pride in.”

The Dutch youth soccer academy Ajax (pronounced EYE-ox), is located in Amsterdam and consists of eight well-kept fields, a two-story building housing locker rooms, classrooms, workout facilities, offices for coaches and a cafeteria. Ajax has become a talent factory. It manufactures players and sells them, often for immense fees, to teams around the world.

The soccer academy in Herriman plans to be run similar to a big-league baseball minor league program but as one that reaches into early childhood.

The training academy will offer more than player development. Officials plan on offering coaches training, referee training and front office management like accounting and business management. 


The local benefit

The RSL training center will offer many of the soccer clubs in the area the opportunity to train locally without the expense of traveling out of state to get what they need. 

The Utah Youth Soccer Association is the largest youth sports organization in Utah. It reaches out to more than 50,000 soccer players across the state. The UYSA oversees coaches licensing, certification of referees and players insurance. It offers youth the opportunity to play at a comfortable level, whether it is recreation play or elite competition and opportunities.

“There is no question that soccer has changed in a positive way here in this state,” Sparta Technical Director Marco De Ruiter said. “First, the number of participants has grown. Just four or five years ago the Utah Youth Association had about 35,000 members and now they are over 50,000. Soccer is getting more popular. The level of the clubs and experience is getting better as well. We are now able to compete with states like California and Nevada.” 

Sparta United Soccer club claims to be the oldest youth club in the state of Utah. It was established to provide serious soccer players the opportunities to advance to the highest levels of soccer. It currently has more than 60 teams competing in elite, developmental and premier divisions. The club is based in Sandy h and incorporates players from all over the Wasatch Front. Like many clubs in the state, its coaches are United States Soccer Federation licensed. 

“Coaching education is expensive,” De Ruiter said. “In my opinion, it should more available; we have to travel out of state at this point for these coaches to receive the training they need.”

The RSL training facility is scheduled to help provide the coaches the training necessary to develop their skills and further their soccer education.

The USSF provides training levels for all coaches from National F to A and Pro licenses. All F-level coaches take a two-hour online grass roots training, focusing on fun, activity-centered, age-appropriate environment for players ages 5–8. The highest youth level, A-coaches, combine experience, onsite training and developmental assignments and mentoring. 


Club soccer

Clubs in the state offer competitive advantages to its members. Most clubs offer different levels of ability to its prospective players and families. The UYSA facilitates premier level and divisions one through three skill levels.

“I think parents should focus on technical development,” De Ruiter said. “I tell our coaches results are not important. We want to develop players for them to advance to the next level. RSL has a huge influence locally. They have had coaches meetings and invited our players to the games as spectators, ball boys and little kids player escorts. The RSL ownership has dedicated to make the level in Utah better in a positive way. To have an academy in our state is a big advantage for soccer development.”

Sparta is one of many soccer clubs in the area; Murray Max, Avalanche, Impact, La Rocca, West United and Forza are a few of the more popular clubs. West Jordan Youth Soccer advertises itself as a recreation league and encourages the coaches, fans and players not to keep track of the score and wins and losses. Many of the others offer competitive games and access to tournaments across the Western United States.

Impact Soccer registrar and tournament director Melinda Sorensen has organized its club tournament for the past nine years. This year, July 6–9, more than 140 teams converged on fields at Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center and Bonneville and Churchill junior high schools to play in the tournament. Teams came from Idaho, Colorado, Montana and Nevada.

“It can be crazy keeping all of this organized,” Sorensen said. “To me, it is amazing to see the growth we have had in soccer in this area. It is like a full-time job for me February to August.” 

Tournaments are only part of the costs families have to participate in competitive soccer. Competition teams have registration fees, coaches’ fees, tournaments, travel and uniform costs. These fees can be upwards of $2,300 or more a year. 

Many coaches, club directors and staff board members receive payment for their services. In one local club its advanced level coaches are paid approximately $50 per player on their team per month. Soccer has become big business.


Success in the neighborhood


Many of the local clubs advertise their ability to develop and help players advance to NCAA soccer programs. They use this as an advantage to gain mass numbers of players in their clubs. Other clubs boast the fun, social and educational aspects of playing the “beautiful game.”

Avalanche Soccer is a girls’ only club. Its mission statement says it works to instill and reinforce the qualities of confidence, teamwork, loyalty, hard work, sacrifice, determination, struggle, heartache, passion and success in young girls. Its alumni include five players currently playing for the University of Utah women’s team. It also fields a team in the Elite Club National League, a travel league of teams based in Colorado, California, Utah, Washington, Idaho and Oregon.

“We have some teams going to national championship tournaments,” De Ruiter said. “The kids have been very competitive.” 

Many Utah youth girls and boys teams competed very well at the Farwest Regional Championship in May. The under 16 La Roca Premier PO and U17 Celtic Storm 99 Premier teams played in their group finals.  The Sparta 01 JK, La Roca South CS 99/00 and La Roca Premier PO are scheduled to represent the state at the U15 boys, U16 boys and U16 girls divisional, respectively.

Real won the Major League Soccer championship in 2009, the top tier of professional soccer in the United States and Canada. They are usually a top contender in the MLS Western Conference and at press time they stand in fourth place with 30 points.

The $50-million training facility is an investment where players will develop a foundation at a young age and better prepare them for elite-level soccer and possibly on to the first team. 

The Herriman facility, off the Mountain View Corridor at approximately 14800 South, is scheduled to have two indoor fields under the largest free-spanned building in North America. The two full-size major league soccer fields will have no posts in between them. The turf has also been specially picked to provide the best playing surface in the area.

“Any city looks for an iconic landmark to define its city,” Herriman Mayor Carmen Freeman said.

“It will stimulate economic growth and serve its purpose. Yes, it will serve Real, but it will serve us as a community.” 

The hope for Real is to build a facility that the community will be able to use and be proud of.    

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