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Preseason soccer in Tucson a homecoming for Real Salt Lake players

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Preseason soccer in Tucson a homecoming for Real Salt Lake players

Team has 4 players with connection to Old Pueblo

  • Real Salt Lake players (left to right) Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera, Donny Toia and Tate Schmitt
    Ted Prezelski/TucsonSentinel.comReal Salt Lake players (left to right) Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera, Donny Toia and Tate Schmitt

Real Salt Lake scrimmaged against Pima College at Kino Stadium on Thursday morning. The scoreline showed the visitors from Utah winning the day 1 - 0, but there were more important things to keep track of than who got the goal.

"It's not about the other team, it's about being able to work on what we are doing," said RSL defender Aaron Herrera. "Movement from guys off the ball, working on what guys are doing on the ball. Having a full eleven guys that we don't play every day is going to benefit us no matter who it is."

"We could have mannequins out there, but having real players who are going to defend hard and play hard is good. Pima did a good job today."

Herrera, who was signed for RSL in 2017, is one of four players on the side with Tucson connections. Although he is a native of Las Cruces, N.M., he had 11 appearances for FC Tucson in 2016 and 2017.

Four out of a roster of 30 players is significant, especially for a city of Tucson's size. It isn't a coincidence or an accident either. Major League Soccer has a "homegrown player" provision as part of its salary rules that encourages teams to sign young players from their region. In addition to this, the team had an academy in Casa Grande. The academy moved to Utah in 2018, but the team still maintains connections to local youth leagues. It stands to reason that the team would have a strong connection to Arizona.

"A lot of it has to do with the RSL academy," said Justen Glad, a former Catalina Foothills player who is now a defender for RSL. "So, you've got me, Donny [Toia] and Tate [Schmitt]. That relationship really flourished."

Tate Schmitt is from Phoenix, but he spent several seasons playing for FC Tucson. He believes there are things about Arizona which creates better soccer players.

"The weather is one thing. There's a very good environment for games to be played all year allows players to be able to develop," said Schmitt, the only non-defender of the four. "As well, it's the talent pool that comes out of here. There's a Hispanic demographic here, which makes a strong culture for soccer."

Schmitt says that being part of a small Old Pueblo corps has been helpful.

"It helps out a lot," he said. "Commuting and playing with people like Aaron helps. We know the system, we know the ins and outs...we are basically family."

Donny Toia played for Pima a decade ago (with Justen Glad's brother, Eric) and relished the chance to face off with them.

"It was pretty cool. All the guys are a lot shorter now," he joked. "It's good to see that Pima College is still doing well and is pretty competitive."

Toia was the first "home grown" player for RSL, but only saw action on the reserve team. He got cut and FC Tucson gave him a chance to play again. With several stops in-between, he signed with RSL again in late 2018.

"Hard work pays off," he said. "If you continue to do that and put your head down and keep running, it will pay off on the field and coaches will see it."

All four of the players noted that it's special to play preseason at the stadium where they first played high level soccer.

"Being able to come back here is always nice," said Herrera. "I've got memories of the good old days when I was trying to make it as a professional. Playing with people from all over the country and at a high level, it was good."

Visit Tucson Sun Cup

Schedule and Results

All matches at Kino Sports Complex unless otherwise noted

Saturday, February 15

  • Real Salt Lake 0 - Sporting KC 0
  • New York Red Bulls 1 - Houston Dynamo 1
  • Columbus Crew SC 1 - Phoenix Rising FC 0 (Casino Arizona Field, Scottsdale)

Wednesday, February 19

  • Houston Dynamo 4 - Real Salt Lake 0
  • New York Red Bulls 1 - Columbus Crew SC 1
  • Phoenix Rising FC 2 - Sporting Kansas City 1 (Casino Arizona Field, Scottsdale)

Saturday, February 22

  • 2 p.m. - New York Red Bulls vs. Sporting Kansas City
  • 5 p.m. - Houston Dynamo vs. Columbus Crew SC
  • 7 p.m. - Phoenix Rising FC vs. Real Salt Lake (Casino Arizona Field, Scottsdale)


  • Houston Dynamo - 4 points, +4 goal differential
  • Columbus Crew - 4 points, +1 goal differential
  • Phoenix Rising - 4 points, 0 goal differential
  • New York Red Bulls - 2 points, 0 goal differential
  • Sporting Kansas City - 1 point, -1 goal differential
  • Real Salt Lake - 1 point, -4 goal differential

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