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HERRIMAN — Real Salt Lake’s academy complex, training center and high school is officially open for business.
OK, so the privately funded, $78 million facility in Herriman has been hosting preseason training for RSL, the second-division Real Monarchs and the women’s side Utah Royals FC for nearly a month. But the group officially unveiled all the bells, whistles, fields and features to a sea of supporters, reporters and MLS dignities like Commissioner Don Garber and Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen during an open-house announcement Wednesday afternoon.
“I have spent quite a bit of time in Salt Lake since we first thought about coming here in 2003, and I have to say, in my wildest dreams — after all the trials and tribulations of growing this sport — I never thought I would see anything quite like this,” Garber said. “It is absolutely awe-inspiring and spectacular.”
After the groundbreaking ceremony, Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke asked a handful of first-team, Monarchs, academy and discovery players that were in attendance to stand and be recognized.
He said something about the players that could very well describe the academy, too.
“This is the future of RSL in all facets of it,” he said.
The training facility will house RSL, the Monarchs and the Royals for practice, while the two top-division men’s and women’s clubs will continue to play their home games at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy.
“We’ve now brought the full spectrum of soccer to Utah,” Hansen said. “What a joy it is to see this community, to thank so many people who did this, and to have all the resources and the team to do this.
“They have all done a brilliant job.”
The facility, which bears the name Zions Bank Real Academy, is the largest of its kind in Major League Soccer, with 70,000 square feet of training facilities and administrative areas for the RSL Academy and professional teams across the organization. With the expansion of the Royals, who begin play in the National Women’s Soccer League in March, the club had simply outgrown its daily training facilities at America First Field in Sandy.
Now the team has a facility to call its own, underneath a 525-foot long roof — the largest free-span structure without support columns in North America, according to Hansen.
“It’s been a long time coming; it’s been a lot of work,” Hansen said.
The project, which was announced in April 2016, is the culmination of a work that began when Hansen took majority ownership of the club from Dave Checketts in 2013.
The work even goes back to 2003, when Salt Lake representatives met with Garber and MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott about bringing a pro soccer franchise to the Salt Lake Valley. But it was Hansen’s energy that pushed the project over the finish line — even as costs rose by nearly $30 million from the initial $50 million estimate.
“Dell Loy has this remarkable capacity to dream and to build. A lot of dreamers have great dreams, but can’t turn them into reality,” Garber said. “When he laid out his plan for this to his partners on the MLS board, it was nothing like this.
“Dell Loy is really growing this sport with bricks and mortar, from the bottom up, and an entire soccer nation is grateful to him for doing that.”
Utah Sports Commission CEO Jeff Robbins has been involved in conversations around Real Salt Lake since the beginning. He flew home from attending the Winter Olympics in South Korea earlier this week and marveled as he walked into the facility, he said.
“To look at this facility and the kind of training facility that has been built,” Robbins said, “it’s remarkable to see what has been built.”
The facility will be run by solar panels installed on the roof of the indoor training field facility and the adjacent Zions Bank Stadium, the new home team for the Monarchs in the second-division United Soccer League.
A 56,800-square-foot array of panels pours in 957 kilowatts that power 80 percent of the facility, Hansen said, while the 5,000-seat stadium will run off the 9,800-square-foot, 166-kilowatt array on the roof.
Along with the academy and training facilities, the 42-acre campus is also home to RSL Academy High School, a charter school approved for science, technology, engineering and math education by the Jordan School District.
“That fits so nice into the vision, into the moniker of what Real Salt Lake is. It’s the community’s team,” said Ryan Marchant, who developed the school’s curriculum. “What a better idea than to have a charter school with this world-class training facility?
“Our students are in awe when they walk through the door, and they see where they get to practice and spend time. We’ve set forth to be a fantastic STEM school, and also a soccer school — but it’s come with a lot of help.”
Zions Bank became the title sponsor of the facility after just one meeting with RSL chief business officer Andy Carroll, who attributed the building’s rapid construction to that partnership.
“The one thing that differentiates Real Salt Lake from a lot of other clubs and other markets is the community support we have in Utah. When you see our fan support, it’s really amazing,” Carroll said. “The other support we get is from our partners. When you think about us as a small-market team and how competitive we are in the league we are in, what allows us to compete is our corporate support.
“We literally could not compete without it.”
The next step for the club? Putting a product on the field that represents the significant investment in the training facility — and one that can compete for MLS Cup and Supporters Shield championships for years to come.
RSL opens the 2018 MLS season Saturday at FC Dallas. The club returns home against expansion Los Angeles FC at 1:30 p.m. MST Saturday, March 10.
“I think the investment in this club will go toward the field,” RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. “You’ll see some big things happen.”