HERRIMAN — Real Salt Lake started an MLS-record six homegrown players on the road last weekend against Los Angeles FC. A few hours earlier, FC Dallas started five homegrown players.
It was an occasion trumpeted by the league and both clubs.
Afterward RSL coach Mike Petke celebrated the moment while simultaneously downplaying it.
“I think it is a big thing on the one hand, but on the other hand that’s the club that we are. We are built from within,” Petke said. “It shouldn’t be something like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ That’s how we’re set up. That’s how Dallas is set up, and I happen to love it.”
In the 15 years since Real Salt Lake joined MLS, the league has doubled in size from 12 to 24 teams. With that growth has come new ideas, new money and new ways to build rosters.
Many teams are choosing the spending approach, while clubs like FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake continue to invest in their academies and build their rosters from within.
FC Dallas signed its first homegrown player in 2009, and a decade later it has signed 23 players from its academy. RSL’s first homegrown signing was Donny Toia back in 2011 and it has now signed 18 academy players to the first team.
Of RSL’s 30-man roster, 12 of those players are homegrown players. FC Dallas has nine homegrown players on its current roster.
The teams meet Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium, a match that could feature anywhere from six to 10 homegrown players in the combined starting lineups.
RSL’s six homegrown starters last week — including debuts from Erik Holt and Tate Schmitt — fared well despite the loss, which Petke said strengthens the proven commodities on the squad.
Over the years Real Salt Lake has never really developed a rivalry with FC Dallas like it has with some of the other Western Conference teams. For many of the homegrown players, however, a rivalry with FC Dallas goes back to their academy days.
“Any of the top academies are always rivals and it all translates into the pro game,” Holt said.
Added Brooks Lennon, “It was kind of a battle between us and FC Dallas. Whenever we played each other it was always a really good game, and as you can see they’re putting out a lot of homegrown talent on the field on Saturday’s as well. It’s great to see and it’s good for MLS to see so many young players getting an opportunity and playing, but I think we one up them in terms of an academy product.”
The six homegrown players who started at LAFC were Holt, Lennon, Toia, Schmitt, Sebastian Saucedo and Aaron Herrera. Luis Arriaga, 18, even came on as a late sub in the match making him the seventh homegrown player to step on the field.
Of the seven, Arriaga is the only teenager. For Dallas, meanwhile, of its five homegrowns who started and one who came on as a sub last week, four are teenagers.
Petke acknowledges that winning with academy players alone is extremely difficult.
“The thing is, this league is continually stepping up and raising the bar with teams coming in and spending incredible amount of money on very good, big stars from overseas,” he said.
He also believes in the academy approach and believes there’s a path to championships using the model.Comment on this story
“My dream is to win an MLS Cup with primarily academy players from here. Is that realistic, I think it is eventually as far as not first-year, second-year academy players,” said Petke. “I think the Justen Glads, the (Saucedos), the Aaron (Herreras), the Brooks (Lennons) who are a couple years into the league, the more experience they get and the better they get, if you surround them with the right talent then I think it’s possible.”
For this weekend, RSL is simply looking to get back on track after losing two straight road games, and for the homegrown players, a little extra bragging rights on FC Dallas would be nice too.