Real Salt Lake: Barcelona, Liverpool moving into the neighborhood; how does that affect RSL?

First Published      Last Updated Jun 13 2017 08:55 pm

Real Salt Lake » Liverpool to open a Utah academy in the next year; Barcelona is moving into RSL’s old Arizona digs.

Sandy • The English soccer star might have looked a little out of place Tuesday morning, standing on a youth soccer field in the middle of the Salt Lake Valley, were it not for the gray sky and morning drizzle to remind him a bit of Britain.

James Milner, Liverpool FC's starting left back, was decked out in all gray, playing with a group of Utah-based soccer clubs.

After one team gave up a quick counterattacking goal, he turned, pointed to both central defenders and told them to tighten up. On the other end, his patented left foot drilled a perfectly placed cross to the back post that a player tapped in with ease. All around the fences hung Liverpool banners with the familiar crest and the club's motto, "You Never Walk Alone."

It wasn't random circumstance that the 31-year-old English star was in town kicking it around. Milner was the center of attention Tuesday because Liverpool is expanding its footprint worldwide, and of all places, it has chosen Salt Lake City.

The Liverpool Football Club International Academy Utah (LFC Utah) is on its way to state, headed by Utah businessman and lifelong Liverpool supporter Wayne Scholes.

And as Milner played soccer just across the street from Rio Tinto Stadium, it raises the question: What does this mean for RSL? The search for talent has suddenly stiffened in this market. Do clubs the size of Liverpool step on the toes of the local guys?

If you're driving in either direction along I-15 where Salt Lake County and Utah County merge, it's hard to miss the massive building out west. The roof, aptly a claret red, sticks out, nestled at the foot of the Oquirrhs in Herriman.

That's where the future of Real Salt Lake resides.

The estimated $60 million soccer complex will not only house the first team and its USL affiliate Real Monarchs, but just as importantly will serve as the club's primary residential academy. Since 2010, RSL's academy partnered with Grande Sports World in Casa Grande, Ariz. Located 45 minutes south of Phoenix's sprawl, the place became synonymous with churning out professional and Division 1 soccer players.

RSL's owner, Dell Loy Hansen, believes that in order for his franchise to build for the future it must eventually bring all of its elements under one roof, so to speak.

So when RSL made its intentions clear that it was going to relocate its academy to Herriman, Ronald Burks and his staff went to work. Last week, Grande Sports World and the Grande Sports Academy announced that it would be without a tenant no longer.

The new occupant? Barcelona. Yeah, that Barcelona.

Burks, the CEO of Grande Sports World, expects to cast a wider net in search of top-flight prospects without the strict geographical regulations of MLS academy set-ups.

"I think we'll attract even more talented kids," he said.

Inside the offices just west of the Salt Lake City International Airport, everything is decked out in Liverpool colors and mementos. Chairs, picture frames, windows, everything. On one wall reads a quote from former manager Bill Shankly:

"You must believe you are the best — and then — make sure that you are."

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Giants at the doorstep

» FC Barcelona announces an agreement to take over for RSL at Grande Sports World in Casa Grande, Ariz.

» Liverpool Football Club International Academy Utah (LFC Utah) launches Tuesday.

Barca Academy

» According to the Barca Academy brochure, Grande Sports Academy has had every student-athlete receive a college scholarship offer or sign a professional contract

» 33 professional signings (12 with RSL)

» 131 college scholarship offers

» 68 players called up to youth and senior national teams from 14 different countries

LFC Utah

» The academy is expected to have 55 teams from U-6 to U-19 levels in St. George, Salt Lake City and potentially Provo. It is expected to get up and running in 12 months.


» Expected to move its academy north from Arizona to Herriman in August.