HERRIMAN — Four RSL players took to the field at the Zions Bank Real Academy training center Wednesday for a vigorous practice, but they weren't wearing their usual team apparel.
They weren't being coached by their usual coach, either.
Though they were in their usual training spot, RSL's Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera, Brooks Lennon and Sebastian Saucedo sported USA practice gear while participating in a session of a U-23 national team camp.
The four young Real players admitted it was awesome but unusual to not have to travel to participate with the USA team that's getting ready for 2020 Olympic qualifying.
"It’s nice. It's convenient at the same time, being at home and not having to travel anywhere," Herrera said. "But it's definitely a little weird."
How's this for surreal: The team hotel is only one block away from Saucedo's home in the south part of the Salt Lake Valley.
"It feels like home," he said.
Glad said it's nice to not have to deal with jet lag and to be in comfortable surroundings.
"And obviously having Brooks and Bofo (Saucedo) and Aaron here is a fun time," he said. "It’s nice being in Utah."
Another person with strong Real Salt Lake ties feels the same way.
Former RSL star and coach Jason Kreis, the first player selected by the organization and a key member of Real's 2009 MLS championship team, was hired as the U-23 head coach earlier this year.
Kreis is thrilled to be back near his old stomping grounds, and he's in awe of the club's top-notch facilities that were only a dream when he left Utah in 2013.
"Incredible. Really incredible to look around and see all these fantastic fields and this building behind us (the indoor facility) and the mini-stadium for the Monarchs," Kreis said when asked about the academy. "It’s just an incredible investment Dell Loy (Hansen) has made for the club and for the community. I think that there’s just so much to be proud of here.
"It’s nice that they’ve welcomed us in, and we’re enjoying it."
Several U.S. players took a moment to snap photos of the picturesque Wasatch Front mountains, which provide a scenic backdrop to the east of the practice fields.
"They’ve been amazed so far," Lennon said of his fellow U.S. teammates' impression. "The first day we pulled up to this academy, they were shocked. They were blown away at how big the facility is, how nice the fields are. I’m kind of proud to be able to show them where we get to train everyday."
The players said they like the culture, style of play and coaching the U.S. team has under the direction of Kreis. The RSL legend followed his coaching stint in Salt Lake with stops with New York FC (2015) and Orlando City SC (2016-18) before landing this national team position.
"He’s a little more reserved than Mike (Petke), obviously," Glad said, drawing laughs. "But he’s about his business. He makes it clear he knows what he wants and he shows that on the field and in our meetings. He knows what he expects from us. It makes our job easy when you have a clear-cut picture like that."
The four RSL players were all on the 2017 U-20 World Cup team, which advanced to the quarterfinals, and Kreis likes their chances for participating with this squad past this camp.
"It was really, really nice and extremely supportive of Real Salt Lake to allow us to have those players in this camp," Kreis said. "Because I think there’s a good chance that those four players and some of the others that are here will be big players for us as we move forward and attempt to qualify for the Olympics."
Those Summer Games are in Tokyo, but the guys will gladly wander away from home for that — not to mention the qualifying rounds leading up to the Olympics.
"Everyone knows sort of the stakes of what all these camps mean," Herrera said. "Obviously the last cycle we missed the Olympics, so this cycle we definitely want to one-up that and be able to qualify and go to the Olympics and do well there. There’s definitely a little bit of a pressure for us to qualify. We all want to be there."
Wearing that USA badge is something special that every player aspires to, the RSL players pointed out.
"Ever since I was little, it’s always been an honor to get called into camps," Lennon said. "Going to the (U-20) World Cup was a dream of mine, and that luckily came true. ... It’s an honor to wear the U.S. badge and honor your country."Comment on this story
"It’s a huge honor," Glad added. "Obviously when you play week in, week out on a club level, the goal is to represent your country. Getting called into this is an affirmation of what you’re doing on the field. It’s an honor, and I’m always happy to be called up."
All the better to be among familiar faces in a familiar place.
"It obviously means a lot to us individually. Us all being able to play in the same age group, it always helps to have that camaraderie coming into the camp," Herrera said of being with three RSL guys. "All in all, I think it’s big for the club, and obviously very enjoyable for us."