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SALT LAKE CITY — When Justen Glad joined Real Salt Lake Arizona Academy in 2012, he had no idea that one day he would be playing for Real Salt Lake.
“The initial goal (of joining Real Salt Lake Academy) was just to get a college scholarship,” Glad said.
College ball was no longer part of Glad’s plans after his strong performances in reserve games.
“Eventually one thing led to another and I started playing reserve games and stuff like that; then it kind of became clear that it was an option to go pro,” Glad said. “Then, once you have that kind of in your sights, that’s all you want to do.”
Glad signed a homegrown contract with Real Salt Lake in 2014, meaning RSL signed Glad without first having to draft him. Glad was eligible to sign this Homegrown contract with RSL since he played for RSL Arizona Academy for at least a year.
“I was kind of expecting it (the homegrown contract), but it was still obviously surreal getting that first offer,” Glad said. “I mean you never know until they actually do offer, so when it’s clear cut and on the table like that, it was just an awesome feeling.”
Glad is one of eight players on RSL’s team who originated from an RSL academy. Real Salt Lake has been one of the most successful teams with developing players at academies. Arizona is one of three states that RSL currently has academies in.
RSL assistant coach Freddy Juarez, who worked with Glad while he attended the Arizona Academy, credits much of Glad’s progression to hard work.
“Good kid from the very first time we got him, good work ethic, super intelligent type of player,” said Juarez. “So, you know, he’s come a long way.”
Along with his work ethic and knowledge of the game, having veteran teammates has also helped expedite Glad’s progression.
“He’s picked up good habits from other players,” Juarez said. “He’s been lucky enough to be around Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, players that have been in the league for many many years, he sees them every day, how they train, how they work, and he’s copied that.
“If you’re a young guy, if you’re not doing what they do or doing more, then there’s a problem, and he’s always been very good at that; his work ethic never has been questioned, ever.”
Working hard as a team is one of the reasons why Glad continues to grow as well.
“I’m friends with a lot of hardworking guys who are all on the same page,” Glad said. “It helps when we’re motivating each other and working to get better.”
Glad is still just 21 years old, but has already played in 61 games for RSL, starting in all but two. With the experience under his belt, Glad wants to take the next step as a player.
“When I first started, it was just kind of, do well and do your job, you don’t need to do anything out of the ordinary or do anything like that,” Glad said. “And now I want to push myself to that other level, that next level, where you can try to separate yourself.”
Glad’s ability to make plays and progress helped get him called up by the U.S. national team, where he hopes to become a more permanent member.
“Overall goal as a player is to be with the national team consistently,” Glad said. “I mean that’s the dream, to represent your country at the highest level.”
Juarez believes that Glad’s experience with the national team should make him more of a leader on the field this year.
“We got a kid that went to the national team camp and we felt that he could take more of a leadership role a little more in the vocal aspect, where he’s giving more instructions, that are a little bit clearer and more demanding to his players around him,” Juarez said. “Just for the organization purposes, so everyone stays in the loop and there’s a cohesiveness in the back line.”
Leadership is something that Glad also thinks he’s stepping up this year.
“I think just awareness just where other players are and communicating and trying to be a leader back there is definitely where I’ve stepped my game up I think,” Glad said. “Just kind of taking control and not letting someone else be the guy on the back line who’s telling all the players where to go and stuff, it’s something that I’ve been working on to try and take control of back there.”
Expectations are high for the 21-year-old defender, and he is not shying away from any of it.