MLS commissioner says Real Salt Lake’s new facility enables the league to recruit, develop world’s top talent

FILE - In this Dec. 9, 2016, file photo, MLS Commissioner Don Garber holds a state of the league news conference in Toronto. Four cities are in the running to join Major League Soccer. MLS announced Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, that Cincinnati; Detroit; Nashville, Tennessee; and Sacramento, California, are finalists for two expansion clubs. Owners and officials representing the expansion markets will make presentations to MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the league's expansion committee on Dec. 6 in New York. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

Herriman • Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber was most impressed by the scale of the facility.

“The moment you walk in and you see two really big soccer fields with the Royals practicing on it, you’re just overwhelmed by the size and scope,” he said.

As he walked around the fields at the Zions Bank training center with Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen Wednesday before the building’s grand opening ceremony, he was struck by what, beyond size, the $78 million facility embodied. The training center brought together all five RSL-owned teams (two Academy teams, the Real Monarchs, Utah Royals FC and Real Salt Lake) under one roof.

“We’re trying to do more than just be big,” Garber said. “We’re trying to be connected. So the high school, the concession areas, the weight room, the locker rooms are all indicative of where MLS wanted to be, and we’re getting there now.”

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The 42-acre facility includes two indoor fields, five outdoor practice fields and the Monarchs’ new 5,000-seat stadium. The Academy, Monarchs and first team will train there throughout the season, and they all have their own locker rooms on site. Multiple training rooms and weight rooms are housed under the same roof as the two turf fields.

The Royals will use America First Field in Sandy to train once the weather warms up, but they plan to spend the first leg of preseason in Herriman.

“You’re going to see more of it every year in MLS,” Garber said of state-of-the-art facilities built for not just the first team. “The bar keeps getting raised higher.”

The league has long stressed the importance of developing American talent and has incentivized that strategy with Homegrown Player rules.

An influx of TAM (targeted allocation money) this season, however, has sparked a shift toward young international talent as well.

“We have as a theme, a mission, to be the league of choice for the top players in the world, particularly the top young players,” Garber said. “And you think about some of the players that were brought in in the offseason — it can’t just be about, ‘MLS is a league on the rise and that it’s a great place to play. It’s a great place to either start your career or continue your career.’

“It has to be about a place that can be as good as any other professional soccer league in the world in terms of its professionalism, its competition, its ability to develop you as a first team player. And this [facility] tells a pretty good story,” he added.

Players from the Academy, Royals and RSL sat in the audience during the opening ceremony, while the Monarchs players prepared for training on the adjacent field. The Academy players even sang “Stand by Me” — an appropriate choice for a celebration of continuity between teams — as the high school highlighted its two choirs.

“We picked a specific path,” Hansen said, “that we’re going to start form the youth up, age 7, and we’re going to internally grow the core of our program. It’ll be interesting to see what it looks like in 10, 15, and 20 years. The real fruit of what we’re doing here today will be shown in 15 and 20 years.”

THE SCALE OF THE ZIONS BANK REAL ACADEMY<br>As a whole • 42 acres, $78 million.<br>The high school • over 70,000 square feet of floor area.<br>Indoor fields • 210,000 square feet of field space, 400-foot clear span width, 525 feet long, 70 feet high at the roof peak.<br>Zions Bank Stadium • 5,000-seat capacity