24 July 2014

The moment Real Salt Lake decided to sign 17-year-old Sebastian Saucedo

I actually missed the moment when Real Salt Lake decided to sign 17-year-old Sebastian Saucedo, who is reportedly set to become the club's first Utah-based Homegrown Player (the other HGPs have come from outside the state via the club's residential academy in Arizona).

I was tweeting. Oops.

It was at the Generation adidas Cup - the MLS U-17 championship - in Frisco, Texas, on April 17. I was covering the tournament for MLSsoccer.com, calling three group games, the semifinals and the final and writing daily recaps from the tournament.

So on the final day of group games, Real Salt Lake was playing its biggest rival in Development Academy play, the LA Galaxy, with the winner advancing to the semifinals. The teams were battling for the division lead, so it was a can't-miss game. As I arrived at the field, I noticed more people than usual near the RSL bench. I recognized a few faces I knew from the front office and was mildly surprised they had found their way to a youth game, given that the first team was nowhere near Texas at the time.

Then I saw a face that shocked me. The club's owner, Dell Loy Hansen, was laughing with general manager Garth Lagerwey and co. At a youth tournament. It seemed absolutely crazy to me. It turns out Hansen had used his own plane to fly a group of staffers in for the game.
I don't know how much money fuel for private planes costs, but it seems like they may have gotten their money's worth on this night. Real Salt Lake blitzed LA with three goals in the first 10 minutes, the final goal a spectacular left-footed volleyed lob from 25 yards that brought the house down. I missed it, too busy tweeting about the second goal, but I saw enough. (Still hoping we can dig it out of MLS archives this week.)

Real Salt Lake added two more goals to go up 5-0 in the first 26 minutes, with Saucedo setting up the fourth and scoring the fifth. The man everybody at RSL calls, "Mr. Hansen" was intrigued. You could tell he was peppering those around him with questions about this kid.

This is the moment
When Saucedo was subbed out of the game in the 61st minute, Salt Lake's 6-1 win secure, he was soon summoned to talk to "Mr. Hansen" behind the bench. I said to an RSL staffer, half-joking, that the conversation consisted of, "So, about that senior year of high school ... I think you could do it in Salt Lake City, don't you?" and was told, in a similar tone, "That's exactly what that conversation is."

Obviously a lot more went into it than Hansen's opinion and that one play (Saucedo has been consistently outstanding for RSL and was named USSDA Western Conference Player of the Year, although the Galaxy did get revenge by beating RSL in the national title game earlier this month).

I'm sure head coach Jeff Cassar and GM Lagerwey were the most influential people in the decision.

But that moment in Frisco sure didn't hurt.

The next night, Saucedo scored with another spectacular chip, and this time I wasn't going to miss it. I even got to call it. This is what RSL's newest signing is capable of: