SANDY — Three years ago, Cache Valley’s Julian Vazquez took a chance on himself.
After spending his freshman year at Mountain Crest High School, Vazquez uprooted his belongings and set off for the Real Salt Lake Academy, which was then located in Casa Grandes, Arizona.
Not quite 15 years old and far away from his family, he began preparing himself for a future as a professional soccer player.
Back home, his older brother JC Vazquez helped lead the brand-new Ridgeline High to a Class 3A state title while playing for his dad. But Julian Vazquez kept playing for the academy, even when RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen moved the state-of-the-art operation to Herriman earlier this spring.
On Friday, the move paid off when he signed his first professional contract. The 17-year-old local soccer phenom will join Real Salt Lake in time for the 2019 season.
“Everything has come pretty quick,” Vazquez said moments after being introduced at Rio Tinto Stadium during halftime of the club’s 4-1 loss to the Portland Timbers. “I’ve been with the academy for three years now, and now that it’s been back in Utah, I’ve been getting a lot more exposure and bounced around a lot more.”
In the middle of an epic loss that pushes RSL (13-12-7) to the brink of playoff contention, the franchise announced a move that should give die-hard fans hope for a better future.
And if nothing else, it signals to other local soccer players that the Sandy-based franchise is investing in its homegrown products.
Utah's own pic.twitter.com/5SuQmC8LLU— Real Salt Lake (@RealSaltLake) October 8, 2018
Vazquez, a Brigham City native who grew up in Nibley, is RSL’s 16th homegrown player signing, a designation that gives the club salary cap considerations under Major League Soccer’s contract regulations and also allows him to freely move back and forth with the second-division USL side Real Monarchs.
“We’re excited to add another academy player in Julian,” RSL coach Mike Petke said of Vazquez, who joins fellow homegrowns like Justen Glad, Danilo Acosta, Corey Baird, Jordan Allen and Aaron Herrera on the roster. “It’s important to utilize our academy, and Julian has earned the right to be signed. Now it’s up to him of what he makes of it.”
Vazquez will spend the 2019 season with the Monarchs, playing at the same Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman where he’s played with RSL’s U-19 squad since the $78 million academy opened in February.
“It’s crazy to think that not so long ago, I was just watching the games as a little kid,” Vazquez said. “Now I’m going to be a part of the team. It’s an amazing moment for me and my family.”
He scored one goal in five matches for the U-19s, a year after lighting up the U-17 squad with 13 goals in 29 matches, including 25 starts.
“It’s crazy to think about,” Vazquez said, figuratively pinching himself as he met with a handful of reporters in the Rio Tinto Stadium press box. “But I’ve been working hard for this moment, and I’ve always dreamed of this happening.”
To do it with the club he spent his childhood cheering on is a dream come true, Vazquez said.
“I always grew up watching these games with my family,” he added. “Being a part of this team means a lot to me.”