For Soccer Players, A Shot at the Big Time

Real Salt Lake will become the first Major League Soccer team to hold a tryout for its youth academy in Las Vegas on May 20 at the Alexander Dawson School in Summerlin. The club will be seeking players born in 1996 or 1997, or younger if they have exceptional talent.

The news is seen by some as a symbol that the world’s most popular sport is finally producing top-level players in the Las Vegas Valley. There are at least 20,000 players in local leagues, from suburbs to barrios, and many soccer cognoscenti have toiled for decades to try and develop a link between desert pitches and a professional career.

This Sunday’s event is a step forward.

The purpose of the tryouts, according to Rob Karas, director of youth camps for Real Salt Lake, “is to identify up and coming talent for our feeder system.”  Two years ago, the MLS club became the
first to open a residential youth academy
, meaning players leave home and live at the club’s training center outside Phoenix, Ariz., year round. That’s how many professional soccer clubs work with youth players in Europe and South America.

Karas said Las Vegas has finally come onto the radar of professional soccer because of the population base, nearly a third of which is Latino, and the climate, which allows players to
train the whole year. And, he said, there’s also Herculez Gomez – the only member of the U.S. team at the 2010 World Cup with two Latino parents. He grew up in Vegas.

Is there another Herculez Gomez in the valley? “In Las Vegas,” Karas said, “the kids are out there. The passion’s there. The talent’s there. So how do we tap into it?”

We’ll find out Sunday; here’s the info for registering.