Story and gallery by TANEON ROOD
Zions Bank Real Academy, located in Herriman, Utah, has established itself as one of the best soccer academies in all of North America. The academy has been operating in Utah since 2018 and has already developed some of the greatest soccer prospects in the United States.
Dell Loy Hansen, owner of Real Salt Lake, privately funded the Zions Bank Real Academy. The academy broke ground in August 2016 and officially opened on Feb 28, 2018, with dignitaries from the state, Real Salt Lake and Major League Soccer, including Commissioner Don Garber in attendance. Building the facilities cost $60 million. It is the largest pre engineered freestanding steel structure in North America, said Taran Meyer, senior manager of communications.
Before Zions Bank Real Academy was built, Real Salt Lake’s only academy was located in Tempe, Arizona, and started operating in 2010.
Real Salt Lake Academy High School is a charter school located right next to Zions Bank Real Academy, which gives high school students an opportunity to play soccer at Zions Bank Real Academy if they want to.
Real Salt Lake Academy High School and Zions Bank Real Academy fly under the same flag. While they operate differently on the school side, all soccer-related activities of the sanctioned U.S. Soccer Development Academy teams are overseen from Real Salt Lake down. However, both of them help complement each other in many different ways.
About 30% of the 163 students who attend the high school, also train and play at Zions Bank Real Academy. Real Salt Lake Academy High School uses the STEM program, to ensure that the players who attend the charter school get the highest level of education they possibly can get.
This means that the players not only get top training and development in soccer, but also a top education to go along with it. This ends up making the academy experience for players really rewarding.
Real Academy President Jacob Haueter has confidence in the academy and thinks it’ll help grow the amount of local soccer talent. “I see more of an opportunity for players within Utah to play at the professional level,” Haueter said.
A few players from Utah have played for the academy and gone on to play for Real Salt Lake in the past, like Taylor Peay and Phanuel Kavita. Now the number of players coming from Utah who play for the academy continues to grow at a fast rate.
The format that the academy uses to develop players is really similar to how European clubs develop their talent. Zions Bank Real Academy is one of the only soccer academies in North America that has player housing, so academy players can stay on campus.
Fans of Real Salt Lake might be familiar with what a “homegrown” player is. But in case some people don’t know, a homegrown player is a player who played for the academy when they were young and can later on be signed by Real Salt Lake. The homegrown player then gets signed to a homegrown contract, where they will not count against the club’s salary and will sign for a minimum amount of money.
The homegrown system is a great way for clubs around the world to get young talent that they’ve already been developing themselves. Real Salt Lake currently has 13 homegrowns on the roster, and the numbers will keep growing in the future as the academy continues to expand.
While there have been many players in the academy who are from Utah, the academy gets most of their prospects from other states. “A majority of the academy players are from out-of-state, so it allows us to scout and recruit more and more players, which is helpful,” said Academy Goalkeeper coach Mirza Harambasic.
Each club has its own territories for where they can choose to get their players from. If a player who is in another club’s territory wants to train and develop under Zions Bank Real Academy, they will need to ask for permission to be released from the current academy they’re with. Utah currently has two states where players can be signed, which are Utah and Arizona. Under Major League Soccer regulations, Real Salt Lake is the only club allowed to recruit youth players from Arizona.
There are open territories where any club can sign players from, Las Vegas and Northern California being the main territories where the academy finds its out-of-state prospects. Any area within a certain mile radius where there isn’t a professional Major League Soccer club is an open area for any club in North America to find young talent.
Eventually, some of the young prospects at the academy will become signed by the top European clubs in the world like Real Madrid of La Liga and Liverpool of the English Premier League. The academy encourages the young players to sign with European clubs if it’s the decision they’ll be the most happy with. There’s also a positive to young academy players signing in Europe, as these clubs pay money for these young players and it helps the academy get money. That is the business side of the academy, which is what helps keep it running and continuously developing talent.
In January 2019, Taylor Booth became the first Utahn from the academy to ever be signed by a top-tier Bundesliga club in Bayern Munich, which is located in Munich, Germany.
Harambasic added that the academy has grown and improved since expanding to Utah from Arizona, and he hopes that the academy continues to grow and become more successful going forward. However, Harambasic still thinks that the academy isn’t world-class yet. “There’s definitely still time to improve. I definitely think we’re a top-tier academy in the United States, but comparing it to a world quality academy, we’re not there yet, but I do think we’re taking the right steps to get there one day,” he said.