How Justen Glad switched positions to become a defender and a key player for Real Salt Lake

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake defender Justen Glad (15) sends the ball downfield as Real Salt Lake hosts Columbus Crew SC, in MLS Soccer at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah on Wed, July 3, 2019.

When Justen Glad first arrived at the Real Salt Lake Academy seven years ago, the coaches asked the players to split into groups — one for forwards, one for midfielders and one for defenders. As the sorting unfolded, Glad, then mainly a central midfielder, watched as 40 players each claimed a spot in the forward and midfielder groups, yet only 10 or so were defenders.

At that moment, Glad made a decision: If he wanted any real chance of making the team, he would have to join the likes of those in charge of stopping goals rather than scoring or creating them.

“I went into that group and I figured I might as well bump my odds,” Glad told The Salt Lake Tribune. “And then I've just been playing defense ever since.”

Now 22, the RSL defender is an integral part of the club. Glad has started all 11 games in which he has appeared this season and averages 90 minutes per game. Last season, he started in all of his 33 appearances.

Since last season, there has only been eight games in which Glad has not played. In those games, RSL scores only 0.9 goals per game and allows an average of 2.3. When he does start, the club scores more goals (1.5) and allows less (1.6).

Glad’s impact on the field is felt more subtly than that of, say, Sam Johnson, who leads the team in goals. And even though his back line mate Aaron Herrera said Glad does “extraordinary things all the time,” it’s not always clear to casual fans.

“I think he just does his job,” Herrera said. “He’s solid at his position every game and he’s always there to cover for his other teammates — cover for me, cover for the other guy next to him and the guy in front of him.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune). Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) goes for then ball along with Real Salt Lake defender Justen Glad (15), in MLS soccer action between Real Salt Lake and Atlanta United at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Friday, May 24, 2019.

Glad grew up in Seattle and started playing soccer in recreational leagues at the age of 4 or 5. He still remembers playing two games on the same day in the pouring rain and sitting in his mother’s car in between them, using the heater to warm his soaking wet body.

When he spoke of a more carefree time, Glad’s face lit up. It became clear that even though he’s been a Major League Soccer player for several years and serves as one of the veteran presences despite his young age, the game still gives him an immense amount of joy.

“All my young childhood memories are playing like six a side and banging like 13 goals a game just because,” Glad said. “I think everyone at this level has that kind of same experience when you're really young when you can kind of do whatever you want. … I remember like it was yesterday.”

Glad is still developing and constantly honing is game. Last season, one of the main areas he wanted to improve was playing more physically aggressive. This season, it’s his passing. He said he stays behind after training sessions and puts in extra work.

RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando said Glad still has room to grow, but added that one of Glad’s biggest impacts is how he complements other defenders such as Nedum Onuoha and whoever is at either outside back position.

“He’ll fight for everything,” Rimando said. “He’ll give everything he has. He’s someone that knows and will put his hand up when things go wrong. But he’s eager to learn and the kid won’t stop fighting.”

Glad said he wants to play professional soccer until he’s 35 years old. But in the next four years, his goal is to play in Europe while he’s still young. After that, he’ll take his career step by step, he said.

“The time to go is when you’re younger,” Glad said. “European teams aren't really looking for 27-, 28-year-olds. They're looking for the young guys who are going to come in and be mainstays.”

Glad thinks that, as a defender, he needs to continue striving for consistency and sharpness on the ball to be considered by a European club.

“I don't have the position where I have to go out and be showy and flashy,” Glad said. “I just have to be effective and clean on the ball and play good defense. … That’s the golden ticket.”

Choosing life as a defender has panned out for Glad so far. When he made the decision all those years ago, he thought he would one day be able to choose a different position, so long as he made the team first.

“And then [I] just kind of stayed there and I started enjoying the position and whatnot,” Glad said. "And here I am.”


At Avaya Stadium, San Jose, Calif.

Kickoff » Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.


Radio » 700 AM

Last meeting » RSL 0, San Jose 0 (July 28, 2018)

Records » RSL 8-8-2 (26 points), San Jose 7-7-4 (25 points)

About San Jose » Chris Wondolowski leads the team with eight goals. … Coming off a loss Wednesday to Minnesota. … Earthquakes have only one road win all season.

About RSL » Sam Johnson has scored three goals in the previous two games. … Team has a three-game win streak. … Nick Rimando will play in his 500th MLS game. … RSL has won four of its last five home games.