Sandy • He stood on the other side of the yellow rope at America First Field, the same spot where friends and family crowded inside the training grounds over the last two years to watch occasionally when Sebastian Saucedo was invited to train or play with Real Salt Lake.
The 17-year-old from Park City spoke of how he had finally arrived at the moment he so often envisioned, of his transition from a young, budding talent along the Wasatch Back to being part of the club’s academy system, south of Phoenix.
Sebastian Saucedo file
Age » 17
Position » Forward/midfielder
Hometown » Park City
Pro career » Signed homegrown contract with Real Salt Lake on July 24, becoming first Utahn to ever sign a homegrown professional contract with RSL. He becomes the eighth Homegrown player signing in the club’s history.
At the youth level » After playing for Utah club La Roca, he joined RSL’s Grande Sports Academy in 2011, spending three seasons with the program and scoring 50 goals in 60 development academy matches. Saucedo was awarded the 2014 Generation Adidas Cup Golden Ball trophy as the tournament’s best player and the Golden Boot for most goals scored.
At the international level » Saucedo is a regular with the U.S. U-18 squad, most recently starring in Portugal with the USMNT and starting three matches for the U-18’s.
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As Saucedo continued talking about his transformation, RSL defender Tony Beltran looked on, listening to what the homegrown signee — the first Utah-based player to make the leap from the Academy to the big club — had to say. When Saucedo’s time was up, Beltran put out his hand. It was essentially a welcoming moment from an established veteran to the new kid. He’d trained with the first team before and scored goals in bunches for the academy as well as the reserves, but Monday was different.
Day 1 as a pro with the pros was in the books.
"I never thought I was going to get signed," said Saucedo, who signed with RSL last Thursday, "so I just kept pushing hard in the academy and throughout."
The signing was a landmark moment for the franchise, having identified a local player at the youth levels in 2011, then immersing him in an soccer-centric environment focused on churning out professionals as ability and the number of matches grew. In January, while in Casa Grande, Ariz., for training camp, general manager Garth Lagerwey anticipated a Utah-based Homegrown signing coming soon. He guaranteed one within the next three years. All it took was six months.
"Six months can make an incredible amount of difference," Lagerwey said Monday. "Certainly he’s done it and scored plenty of goals … I wouldn’t have predicted a July signing, but that’s what was merited and that’s what we did."
An offensive minded player with a penchant for finding the net — he scored 50 in 60 development academy games in Arizona over two full seasons — Saucedo is also a mainstay with at U.S. men’s national team youth level, most recently having started three matches at a tournament in Portugal in June. In Friday’s reserve league match against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds a day after signing that pro contract, Saucedo provided an equalizer eight minutes in.
As is the case with most young hopefuls, the first objective was earning a professional contract. Saucedo committed to Louisville earlier this year, but it was a second option if RSL didn’t offer.
Being entrenched within the culture and style of the organization and acclimating for the last two years ideally will help his speed and skill set. On the field, Saucedo said, everything has been made easier thanks to the Academy and learning at an earlier age. Now he must learn the ins and outs of life as a professional off the pitch as the first Utahn to sign with RSL.
"It’s an honor to become a pro and it takes obviously hard work," Saucedo said. "I’m not there yet like the rest of the guys, but other than that, it feels amazing to be the first [signing] from Utah and getting the support from the whole state."
The paperwork has been penned and processed, but the contract won’t become official until Jan. 1, 2015, Lagerwey said. The club doesn’t currently have an open roster spot, but Saucedo will have an opportunity to put pressure on Lagerwey and coach Jeff Cassar as 2014 wears on.
"Our job is to bring the tomorrow here as soon as possible," Lagerwey said, "although I don’t have any expectations at all for this season."
Cassar called Saucedo’s signing "a great thing for the club," adding that the youngster’s nose for the goal and positioning will provide excitement both in training sessions and perhaps in matches one day.
After his first training day as a pro was in the books, Saucedo spoke to the media, shook Beltran’s hand and then went off to chat with a group of friends who had come to watch Day 1.
"It’s normal," Saucedo said. "I’m just like any other soccer player out there."
Donovan leads L.A. Galaxy over Seattle
Seattle » Landon Donovan assisted on Gyasi Zardes’ goal in the eighth minute, then scored off a rebound 10 minutes later and led the Los Angeles Galaxy to an impressive 3-0 win over the Seattle Sounders on Monday night. Donavan added a second assist on Stefan Ishizaki’s goal as the Galaxy won for the fourth time in six matches.
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