…is a thing that basically doesn’t exist yet.
Real Salt Lake’s Zions Bank Real Academy is a potential game-changer in this respect. Yes, other MLS teams (and some lower-division teams, to an extent) have nice facilities, but nothing like this.
From the Soccer Stadium Digest article (and the RSL release from back in May), the facility is certainly important in developing a robust academy. The plans on how to use that facility and the structure of the academy are more interesting, though:
What makes Zions Bank Training Center unique, however, is not the soccer facilities, which are excellent, but a residential and educational component. The facility has housing for academy students and visiting teams, locker rooms, athletic training facilities, and offices for academy and team staff.
What makes it really special is the incorporation of a STEM charter school developed in conjunction with the local Jordan School District, with 77,000 square feet of classrooms and a 90-acre campus. The school will have 300 students – both academy players and students from the community. Owner Hansen hopes the school will become the “Harvard of Soccer.” The idea of bringing in the best youth players, giving them not only focused residential training in soccer, but also a strong general education, will make it very appealing for youth players and their parents. The school will also provide a strong tie to the community.
These European-style academies and facilities are the way of the future if soccer in our country is to take reasonable steps forward. The inclusion of a fairly typical public school (open to soccer players and average students alike) is something beyond that.
Building additional connections between club and community is… [pictured at right]. This is one major piece of improving soccer culture in our country, producing better players with the talent and resources that already exist in our country by better utilizing those resources (and of course adding more like this capital expenditure). Until you make the most of what you have, you can’t hope for more.
I’ll be exploring more about how programs like this can 1) exist and 2) be utilized in future posts (said posts are, like, the reason I started this site), but certainly seeing ownership of professional teams realizing that re-investing in developing their own local talent is the right move – without the prodding or incentives that I believe US Soccer and/or MLS should add – is a big step forward.
In the hypothetical situation that next week’s MLS meeting goes well and Nashville is the proud owner of a franchise in 2019, I would hope they have a similar vision at least in terms of training facilities. Simply having access to soccer fields is unfortunately far more rare than it should be in our country, and the mere existence of something like RSL’s compound is a major boost in that direction. Nashville needs more fields in general, but an elite-caliber training facility for the team itself, the U23 team, any affiliated (or unaffiliated) youth programs, and the general public would be helpful.
Alas, one must assume that a Brentwood-type location (out of the city, and most conveniently serving those who need it least) would be most likely, but now I’m spinning it way too far forward.
Good facilities have been an arms race in college athletics for the past couple decades, as has coaching salaries. The reasons that exist for that (the governing body mandating that all on-field labor is unpaid, and the pile of cash therefore lying around at the biggest football schools) are totally different than anything that will be relevant to private, for-profit sporting enterprises in our country. Still, there is value in these facilities from a recruitment and development standpoint, and being able to take advantage of that will help ensure we don’t have to worry about having talented enough players to not only qualify for World Cups, but to contend in them.