REDLANDS, Calif. - The hour-plus drive from his home in Smithfield to Real Salt Lake's training facility seems like nothing when compared to how far Sergio Flores has been from his family since he left Utah five years ago.
Flores, a forward-turned-defender for RSL, is the only local player on the team's roster.
But the 20-year-old, who will commute from his parents' home to games and practices, hasn't spent much time in the Beehive State lately.
Before finishing at Sky View, Flores joined John Ellinger, now RSL's head coach, in Florida as a member of the United States under-17 team. His next move was to Argentina, where he played for a junior team.
Flores was playing in Bolivia's La Liga, for El Tigre, when word came that Salt Lake City was awarded a team.
"My mom sent me an e-mail," Flores said.
Flores waited to hear who the coach would be, and when it was announced Ellinger would take the team, he contacted him as soon as possible to state his interest.
"I stayed in contact with him," Flores said of Ellinger. "He was my coach as a U-17 player. He brought a team to Argentina once while I was there and I went to see him."
In Bolivia, Flores was a major player on one of La Liga's top teams, but that still wasn't enough to keep him from pursuing a spot with RSL.
"It was good because I was playing, but it was a third-world country," Flores said.
Flores has been working through a major adjustment since he joined RSL. Ellinger prefers he play defense, so the former forward has begun to pick up the new position in the preseason.
"Game by game I learn," Flores said.
Flores signed a developmental contract with RSL and will play primarily for the team's Generation Next team. The Generation Next program, in its first year, is designed to allow teams to cultivate their own talent, similar to baseball's minor league farm system.
RSL's Generation Next team will play one game a week against other developmental teams.
Homecoming for Pope
Defender Eddie Pope said Tuesday he will be fully fit by the time Real Salt Lake plays its season-opener, in New York on April 2. RSL will play the MetroStars, Pope's former team, in its first game.
Pope's national team duties, and then a groin pull, kept him from joining RSL until Monday. The last time he played with RSL was in Florida in mid-February.
"I'm fine," Pope said. "I'm trying to get back in shape."
Pope's arrival will bump one of RSL's defenders from a starting spot, though no decision has been made yet.
"We're still working it out," Ellinger said.
Brian Dunseth, Nelson Akwari and Matt Behncke have all played in the middle in RSL's preseason games, the same spot Pope plays.
The team will practice in Utah for the first time on Monday, at 10 a.m. at the Spence Eccles Fieldhouse on the University of Utah campus. The practice is open to the public. . . . Three changes have been made to RSL's 2005 schedule. A May 18 game against Chivas USA was rescheduled for Sept. 21; a Sept. 3 game against New England was moved to Sept. 5; and an Oct. 13 game vs. Colorado was moved to Oct. 15.