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Sandy • Three days before Real Salt Lake trekked to Portland in late March to face the reigning defending MLS Cup champions, Justen Glad stayed behind as a spring storm pelted America First Field with rain. Players and coaches filed to their cars to drive back to Rio Tinto Stadium, but Glad and assistant coach Tyrone Marshall remained, working on firing passes across the training field.
Veteran center back Jamison Olave was nursing a quadriceps strain, raising questions if the longtime defender could be ready for the match at Providence Park on March 19. Trapping the ball and firing back each launched pass played to him by Marshall, Glad prepped for the chance he'd start that weekend. It would've been his first start in six months.
"You have to, just in case you do get thrown in," he said that day. "The worst possible situation is to be going in under-prepared and getting scored on and having lost that opportunity."
Glad didn't get the start that night in Portland. Instead, he subbed on in the 85th minute when RSL was reduced to nine players after Olave was shown a late red card that resulted in the game-tying penalty kick for the Timbers.
Two months since, Glad has started seven of the club's past eight games. In those seven matches, RSL is 5-2-0. At 19, he's one of two teenage starting defenders in Major League Soccer; Orlando City defender Tommy Redding a month younger than Glad is the other. The two were once roommates with the U.S. U-17 youth national team for six months.
The 6-foot-tall Glad knows he isn't close to being a finished product. After what he describes as poor performances, he'll pull up the MLS Live video application and re-watch the entire match, examining each mistake.
But Glad hasn't had to watch much lately. In RSL's 3-1 win at Sporting KC last Saturday, he registered 10 interceptions and nine clearances while going toe-to-toe with striker Dom Dwyer. As clutch as he was Saturday, the previous visit to Children's Mercy Park was the highlight of his young season. Glad buried a header in RSL's 2-1 win at Kansas City on April 2 his first goal for RSL.
"It was indescribable," he said. "In the pictures, you can see I'm already beaming, already smiling. That's what it's all about."
Take your pick
The coaches at RSL's Arizona-based academy told the players trying out to break up into three groups before the day's drills commenced. Glad, then a 15-year-old from Tucson, surveyed the landscape on the fields in Casa Grande, Ariz. The midfielder group was growing in size, as was the cluster of forwards. His scanning eventually took him to the third and final group.
A former attacking midfielder in high school, Glad, walked over and joined the defenders.
"I made a tactical decision to join the smallest group," he said, chuckling.
Tall, athletic and technically-gifted, Glad's presence at the RSL academy level eventually grew substantially. He was a regular on the dominant U-16 team that won the 2012-13 U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy National Championship, scoring the game-winning goal in the championship game. Phone calls from the U.S. youth national team soon followed, as did looks from various college coaches around the country.
Each preseason, Casa Grande became the first stop in RSL's prep tour. And Chris Wingert immediately noticed the lanky redhead center back during scrimmages. Wingert told former RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey that he needed to start working on first-team contract terms for Glad immediately.
But soon a dilemma surfaced for Glad: a contract with RSL or a scholarship at Stanford?
After months of deliberation, he chose RSL. In April 2014, he signed his first-team deal and moved to Utah. Then 17, Glad still had a year of high school to finish. As the Glad family scouted opportunities in the Salt Lake Valley, his parents checked out the American International School of Utah, a new charter school in Murray. During their conversation with the principal, Glad's parents found out there were job openings. Both applied and within the week, they were hired.
Glad lives at home with mom, dad and his older brother, who is a student in the University of Utah's physical therapy program. Stanford may be out of the picture for now but Glad has started working on his general college credits in online classes at Salt Lake Community College. When he isn't breaking down the league's best strikers in weekly meetings, he's studying and doing homework.
A year ago, he took four classes. This upcoming semester, he's weighing between two or three.
"I got a lot of free time," he said. "Might as well be putting it toward a degree."
All any player needs is a chance. That's how Wingert, a veteran of 14 years in MLS, describes the maturation of Glad on the RSL back line.
"I think most of us have thought for a while that Justen is going to be a big-time player in this league and possibly elsewhere," he said. "Maybe we didn't realize it was going to happen this soon. That's part of getting a chance and that's taking advantage of their opportunity."
In his second full season working with Glad, Marshall's daily task is insisting that the communication between defenders on the field never quiets down. Coaching a bright young talent like Glad demands a flurry of methods. Marshall said his goal is to provide as many game-day scenarios as possible in training for Glad every day to identify, react to and then analyze.
"The more he can see it and do it, the more he can understand the situation a lot better," Marshall said. "[But] I'm always in his ear. That's not going to change."
RSL coach Jeff Cassar said Glad's progression at the club should become a model of transitioning a player from their fledging youth days to potentially a first-team starter. Because every step along the way, Glad has started and played matches: From the academy to the now-defunct MLS reserve league, to the Monarchs in USL and now with RSL.
"What I really like is when he makes a mistake, it usually doesn't get followed up with another mistake," Cassar said. "That's something really rare."
Once dubbed the future of the RSL back line at 16, Glad's evolution has been a bit expedited. In his first year in 2014, he didn't make a single appearance, as a series of concussions kept him off the pitch for much of the season. Year No. 2 brought various spot starts and with them, accompanying growing pains as a young defender in MLS.
There were more mistakes to break down on his own a year ago, but the amount of tape he's watching in 2016 has already exceeded that of his sophomore season. That chance finally came the way of RSL's young center back, and now comes the hard part: Staying put.
"Obviously the coaches gave me the opportunity and I'm grateful for that," Glad said. "They've put their faith in me and all I can do is play my best and try and show them that they made the right decision."
About Justen Glad
Age • 19
Position • Center back
Hometown • Tucson, Ariz.
Pro career • Real Salt Lake (2014-present)
Transaction • Signed as RSL's seventh-ever Homegrown player in April 2014
Games played • Glad has started seven matches in 2016 in which RSL is 5-2-0. Did not make an appearance in 2014 due to recurring concussion issues, but started six games in 2015 before undergoing knee surgery at the end of the season.
Real Salt Lake at Columbus Crew
P Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
TV • KMYU