The path to becoming a professional athlete can be a daunting one, and while there may be numerous opportunities in which to train and develop to achieve the pinnacle of playing professionally, one location in the United States has raised the bar.
Located in Arizona, the Grande Sports Academy home of the Real Salt Lake – Arizona Academy sits 45 minutes south of Phoenix in Casa Grande, and holds the unique distinction of being the first and only residential soccer academy affiliated with a Major League Soccer club. The Grande Sports Academy has created a unique atmosphere and pipeline in which student-athletes can develop on and off the field. In four short years, 9 players have signed professional contracts in four different countries. Over 50 graduates from GSA play collegiately and a handful of players have played internationally for United States, Canadian and El Salvadorian youth national teams.
Residential student-athletes at the Grande Sports Academy train year-round on arguably the finest fields in the Southwest. The complex has hosted over 10 MLS clubs, United States men’s national team, Denmark’s U-20 team, New Zealand U-17 team and many more. A $20 million soccer facility with eight professional soccer fields, a 58,000 square feet performance center, four stadium quality locker rooms, high performance strength and conditioning equipment, sixteen classrooms, and a hot and cold plunge pools provides student-athletes at the Grande Sports Academy with a first-class professional environment.
The overall goal at the Grande Sports Academy is to provide each senior with a college scholarship offer, and since the inception of the Grande Sports Academy in 2010, every senior has been offered a college scholarship. Graduates have moved on and played for top elite collegiate programs: Stanford, UCLA, University of Louisville, University of Virginia, University of Washington, Marquette University, United States Air Force Academy and many more.
Grande Sports Academy’s affiliation with Real Salt Lake has allowed a unique relationship to bloom that has provided academy players with a first-hand account of what it takes to become a professional athlete. Throughout the year, Real Salt Lake will invite select Grande Sports Academy players to train with the first-team at their home in Salt Lake City, Utah. A handful of these players have seen action in Major League Soccer’s reserve league as well.
The Grande Sports Academy fields four teams in a given school year. Two teams, a U-15/16 and U-17/18 team play in the United States Soccer Development Academy league, which is the highest youth soccer competition in America. Two other teams, U-16 & U-18 squads, serve as the developmental teams and play in the Far West Regional League among other various leagues, tournaments and college showcases.
The U-16/16 & U-17/18 academy teams have yet to miss the playoffs since the inaugural season in 2010. In 2013, the U-15/16 academy team won the USSDA U-15/16 National Championship, becoming the first residential program in the nation to achieve this honor.
Success as a player is not only measured on the field, but in the classroom as well. Residential student-athletes at the Grande Sports Academy have mandatory study halls in which they are provided with instructional tutors, SAT/ACT preparation, and are advised on NCAA eligibility requirements.
Throughout the year, the Grande Sports Academy holds soccer camps. Campers are coached by nationally and internationally recognized soccer coaches who played at the highest levels – international, national teams and MLS. Campers play on professionally manicured soccer fields, train in the 58,000 square feet, state of the art performance center and are challenged each day to improve technically, tactically, physically and mentally.
The camps offer players an opportunity to immerse themselves in soccer excellence and provide an opportunity to experience living as a residential student-athlete at the Grande Sports Academy. The camps can be beneficial to a players’ development as a select few individuals have been invited to join the Grande Sports Academy.
With an incredible success rate in placing residents in top colleges and professional clubs, this can be a ticket to success. As one former player stated, “playing college soccer has always been one of my goals as it’s a step to becoming a professional soccer player. Without the Grande Sports Academy I would have never gotten the exposure to college coaches. Grande Sports Academy is the place to be if you want to reach your goals in soccer."