SANDY — Jason Kreis called Olmes Garcia's curling goal at Vancouver last Saturday an "individual moment of brilliance."
Garcia claims it was a dream, thanking God for the the ability to impact the game and score a spectacular goal.
He fulfilled an even more substantial vision two months ago as he moved forward in his career by leaving Colombia to pursue a Major League Soccer career, and Garcia is happy to be playing in Salt Lake.
“It was a dream,” Garcia said through translator and teammate Sebastian Velasquez. “It was a great opportunity to move forward and I am here to work hard to do what my coaches tell me.”
Acquiring the 20-year-old Colombian forward is proving to be an important and promising investment for Real Salt Lake. In previous recruiting exchanges, RSL brought players to Utah on loan. However, such an arrangement was not possible at the time for Garcia, so the franchise decided to buy his contract.
“Because we bought Olmes, as opposed to taking him on loan, we did make a significant investment in him,” RSL General Manager Garth Lagerwey said. “But, the salary cap impact of that is not so great because we were able to spread the cost of the acquisition over the length of the contract.”
Following the team's MLS cup victory in 2009, RSL seemed to have reached a standstill. The team continued to win and earn a top seed in the West, but the question remained if it could ever really contend for another title.
Although Lagerwey admitted the offseason trades were risky for the franchise, the team needed depth at the forward position and didn't feel comfortable without room to breathe under the MLS salary cap. When the offseason arrived, Real Salt Lake traded Fabian Espindola along with Will Johnson and Jamison Olave, to make way for new players.
“We knew that we were setting off in a new direction,” Lagerwey said. “We thought it would be a risk to move those guys out and try to start with some younger guys. But, we felt like it was something we had to do in order to try to win another championship.”
Left with Alvaro Saborio and virtually no true forwards to run alongside him, RSL turned to scouting. Management started with a list of more than 100 potential forwards and began watching video.
Throughout the scouting process for fresh legs up top, RSL originally believed it needed to recruit another veteran forward. However, after confirming Robbie Findley's return and knowing his transition back to Kreis' system would be an easy one, they started looking at young, raw talent more seriously.
“(Acquiring Findley) got us a little more comfortable with the idea of taking a younger player and integrating him,” Lagerwey said.
Garcia was always Real's top young recruiting prospect. Although Garcia believes his happy attitude is his biggest asset on the field, Lagerwey said the RSL scouting team appreciated the youngster's full range of talents, including his physicality, footwork with the ball, speed and ability to finish.
“He's still got to grow and develop, but I think he's a more complete player in terms of having the tools to succeed,” Lagerwey said. “We want the guy that can hurt you in a number of different ways. He's got a complete set of tools, but the question now is how does he figure out how to use them and develop them.”
In the offseason, Kreis specifically asked Lagerwey to pursue younger prospects. Kreis lacked the opportunity to develop young forwards over the past three seasons, but wanted to use his goal-scoring background to mold players with underlying potential into great forwards.
“Since 2009, he hadn't had a truly young forward that he could mold, develop, shape and say 'this is how I played and these are all the things that made me a great forward,'” Lagerwey said. “As a franchise, we feel good about putting resources like that in Jason's hands because we know they're going to develop.”
Along with Garcia, Kreis also has talented forwards Joao Plata and Devon Sandoval to shape into Real's future frontline. With the speed, the youth and the raw talent each of the players bring to the table, RSL management believes the depth the team aimed to achieve is well on it's way.
“Long term for that group, we feel way better about it than we did a year ago,” Lagerwey said. “That said, those young players have to go out there and prove it. It's great to have talent and potential, it makes a GM feel good, but what fans want to see and what we want to see is production.”
Sometimes it pays off to take risks. For Real Salt Lake, Garcia is shaping up to be a promising investment for the future.
Whitney O'Bannon is a new media sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow on Twitter at @whitney_oban.
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