It came down life as a Stanford University student-athlete and life as a professional soccer player for Real Salt Lake. Seventeen-year-old Justen Glad went with the latter. The Grande Sports Academy product from Tucson, Ariz., officially signed with Real Salt Lake Friday afternoon.
Glad, who committed to Stanford in September 2013, is widely considered one of the top youth talents in the country. He’s been a regular with the youth national team programs and is currently with the U.S. Under-18 men’s national team with a 10-day training camp in Carson, Calif., for the next 10 days.
RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey said negotiations took some time as Glad and his family wanted to take as much time as possible to figure what was best for the 17-year-old. Glad is the second-youngest player to sign with RSL in the Lagerwey Era. Luis Gil was 16 when RSL acquired the midfielder four years ago.
"Justen had the ability to go to Stanford," Lagerwey said. "That’s certainly not something his family, nor we were willing to throw away lightly."
The signing of Glad is just another stepping stone in the evolution of the way RSL identifies and molds young talent through its academy system in Casa Grande, Ariz. Glad is the latest of signings to the first team, following in the vein of Jordan Allen, Lalo Fernandez, Benji Lopez and Carlos Salcedo.
Lagerwey said Glad will likely be groomed in multiple positions along the RSL back line, but said RSL will not pigeonhole him to a certain position as he grows in size and ability.
"If I had to guess right now," Lagerwey anticipated when asked of Glad’s future position down the road, "I would say center back."
The next month or so, however, will be an interesting one for Glad and RSL as he aims to fulfill his junior year of high school in Casa Grande, while simultaneously participating in the prestigious Generation adidas Cup tournament with his RSL Academy squad after finishing up the U-18 camp in Southern California.
"We expect him at the end of April," Lagerwey said. "Inevitably, I think we’re going to wind up sending him back and forth Arizona for school and the [academy’s] playoffs. It’ll be a shared next couple of months. We expect him here full time sometime in the summer."
The RSL academy pipeline gliding northward toward the first team seems rich, something Lagerwey and the club envisioned when they created it back in 2010. But Lagerwey was quick to temper sky-high expectations for a player who just turned 17 in late February.
"Justen’s the second-youngest player we’ve ever signed, expecting anything from a player under 18 right away is crazy," Lagerwey said. "It’s about training and development."
As for how fast can — or will — Glad transition to contending for time on match days in 2014?
"Justen will decide that," Lagerwey said. "He’s 17. We’ll see how tell he is and how much weight he gains. We’ll see how he does. I think he’s a pretty mature kid, a readily easy transition."
Glad played in an MLS reserve-league match with RSL on Sept. 8, 2013, in a 1-1 draw at Portland, Ore., but now enters the next phase of his very-young soccer career with a professional club at the ripe age of 17.
"He’s very fast, super technical — you’re just building a better robot," Lagerwey said. "These [RSL Academy] guys have now been developed at the academy every day for years and they’re better equipped [for the transition]. He’s got a good soccer brain, good size and decent pace. He’s got all the tools."
Glad spoke to the Tribune in late January in Casa Grande. He expounded upon life at the academy in the desert and how the student-athletes go about training and balancing school. But Glad said RSL’s style of play excelled his progression as a player.
"You have to be technical and you have to be smart," Glad said. "It’s not just sending a long ball and run after it — you always have to be thinking ahead, of where to go and where it will be best and where you should move to help your teammates get the ball. We train like the first team does and implement everything they do down here. Everything is for a reason."
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