With Tony (Beltran) going down, we obviously needed to find somebody to come in here who could step in and do the job. —RSL coach Mike Petke on Adam Henley
SANDY — One after the other, Real Salt Lake trotted three outside backs into the media room at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday afternoon to talk about the upcoming season.
The first was new signee Adam Henley, who arrived from England just the day before.
The second was homegrown signee Aaron Herrera, who spent the past three years at the University of New Mexico but signed a contract with RSL last month.
And lastly was Danilo Acosta, who burst onto the scene last season and recently earned a call-up to the U.S. National Team's January camp.
All three head into the 2018 season with vastly different expectations, but all will be vital as RSL figures to be without Tony Beltran for most of the season after he underwent major knee surgery this offseason.
Henley’s arrival is directly related to Beltran’s injury.
“With Tony going down, we obviously needed to find somebody to come in here who could step in and do the job,” said Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke.
Henley brings a tremendous resume to RSL, but is also motivated for a fresh start in a foreign environment.
Henley, 23, was born in Tennessee but moved to England with his family when he was 2. He came up through the Blackburn Rovers Academy, and made his Premier League debut when he was 17 years old. In six seasons with Blackburn, the right back made 80 combined appearances in both the Premier League and Championship level after Blackburn was relegated.
“It was a big decision for me to make to come over here and uproot everything I had back there, friends, family. For me, it was going to be an experience, an adventure and a new challenge, something I’m always looking for,” said Henley.
Injuries limited him in his last season with Blackburn, but he’s been out of contract since the summer and said he’s fully healthy and ready for the preseason, which gets underway in two weeks.
In discussions and negotiations with RSL, Henley said he was very impressed with the vision of the club and the style Petke plays.
Henley calls himself a “modern-day fullback,” someone who can get in the attack and do it well. He also loves the challenge of facing an opponent’s top attacking talent.
“Defensively is my first job, and it will always be my first job and what I look to do the best, and anything else I can provide on top of that for the team is a bonus,” Henley said.
Herrera will provide depth at right back, and even though it’s his first year with the club, he came up through the RSL Academy and played with numerous players like Justen Glad, Acosta and Brooks Lennon.
“Coming back here and being back with all of them is super exciting to hopefully be on the field with them again, and hopefully bring that camaraderie we had at the academy back with RSL,” said Herrera.
Herrera recorded five goals and five assists in 2017 with New Mexico, and was also a part of the U.S. Under-20 National Team squad that participated in the U-20 World Cup last spring.
Acosta and Herrera were both on that squad, which include five players who’d come up through the RSL Academy.
Acosta, 20, said it’s surreal to think that a year ago at this time he had no idea what his role would be with RSL heading into the preseason. Injuries created opportunities, and he made the most of them and became a must start down the stretch in 2017.
His reward is a shot to prove himself with the National Team beginning on Wednesday in California.
“It’s something surreal, I couldn’t believe it when my agent called me and told me,” said Acosta. “It’s going to be something amazing, it’s a huge opportunity for us to go and experience something new and bring it back to RSL.”
Petke said the sky is the limit for his left back.
“He needs to continue on the course that he’s on and not make any exits, not take anything for granted, because if he does this is going to be the first of many good opportunities for him,” said Petke.
END LINES: Last Friday, RSL also announced that it signed another former RSL Academy player, with Corey Baird joining the team after four successful years at Stanford. Baird, 21, helped lead Stanford to three straight NCAA titles during his stint with the Cardinal.