Real Salt Lake: Building a Soccer Mecca in the West

Zions Bank Real Academy rendering

Real Salt Lake has established a record of success in MLS, and the footprint of soccer is growing in Utah. Eventually, it may be the center of soccer development in the U.S.

RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen is quietly establishing a comprehensive organization and soccer mecca in the West.

Two recent developments have bolstered the prospects for the area and organization: a new $73-million training facility—known as the Zions Bank Real Academy—and the recently announced addition of an NWSL squad to add to MLS side Real Salt Lake and the USL Real Monarchs. With these additions, Utah may now be the home of the most comprehensive soccer organization in the country.

The jewel in the crown is the new Zions Bank Training Center. The facility is the physical manifestation of the organization’s philosophy of player development, a system based on the European model (think La Masia, FC Barcelona’s famed academy). The organization plans to bring in youth players to live, learn and play soccer – developing complete players to contribute to the organization’s success, and to develop more complete American youth players.

Located in Herriman City, just 20 minutes west of Rio Tinto stadium, the 132-acre facility has 10 fields including the 5,000 seat Zions Bank Stadium, home of the Monarchs, as well as seven full-size training fields. Two fields are in a 208,000 square-foot indoor structure, the largest pre-engineered free span building in North America. The facility will be the year-round training home of RSL, Monarchs, academy youth teams, and presumably the new NWSL team.

Zions Bank Real Academy rendering

What makes Zions Bank Training Center unique, however, is not the soccer facilities, which are excellent, but a residential and educational component. The facility has housing for academy students and visiting teams, locker rooms, athletic training facilities, and offices for academy and team staff.

What makes it really special is the incorporation of a STEM charter school developed in conjunction with the local Jordan School District, with 77,000 square feet of classrooms and a 90-acre campus. The school will have 300 students – both academy players and students from the community. Owner Hansen hopes the school will become the “Harvard of Soccer.” The idea of bringing in the best youth players, giving them not only focused residential training in soccer, but also a strong general education, will make it very appealing for youth players and their parents. The school will also provide a strong tie to the community.

“As an organization, we believe that building the Zions Bank Real Academy as a gathering place from ground up, developing local talent on and off the field, and ultimately training that talent to an elite level, will lead to stronger community connection and all types of success” Hansen said.

The facility will also serve to centralize the organization’s diverse team structure. The youth academy was previously located in Casa Grande, Arizona, but having the academy training with the USL and MLS squads, coaches and facilities, will improve efficiency.

The addition of an NWSL team to the organization’s portfolio, a development only in the very early stages, will further expand its reach. Hansen reached agreement with the NWSL and A&E to bring a franchise to Utah to start play next Spring for the 2018 season. An NWSL team is something Hansen planned to do eventually, but because of an opportunity presented by the likely demise of the NWSL FC Kansas City franchise, it is being accomplished ahead of schedule.

After speaking with the league, Hansen said “we knew we not only wanted to join as quickly as possible and participate, but we believe that our current infrastructure as well as the development initiatives on the RSL horizon align perfectly.”

Though the NWSL club will likely train at the Zions Bank Training Center, they will play games at Rio Tinto Stadium. The club announced recently that 1,000 season tickets had been sold in the first four days on sale, which bodes well for their future success.

With a new training facility and school to develop young players, and a new NWSL team to diversify and expand the fan base – soccer is on a positive trajectory in Utah.

This article first appeared in the weekly Soccer Stadium Digest newsletter. Are you a subscriber? Sign up here for your free subscription!

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August Publications