Sebastian Saucedo was on the sideline when Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and the rest of Real Salt Lake played at Rice Eccles Stadium, just another starry-eyed elementary schooler serving as a ball boy and dreaming of a professional soccer career.
“Growing up in Utah, who would have known a young kid [from Park City] would have been able to just play in general?” Saucedo said after he scored his first MLS goal for RSL at Seattle on May 26.
Saucedo is on track to have a breakout year, not only scoring his first MLS goal but logging more assists (three) in 11 appearances than in the rest of his career combined. He got his opportunity when injuries kept Joao Plata out of the lineup, and while he has yet to displace Plata permanently from his starting role, Saucedo has solidified himself as a prominent figure in RSL’s attack.
“The last month, he’s defending better,” said assistant coach Freddy Juarez, who has coached Saucedo since he played for the RSL Academy. “He’s playing for the team, he’s keeping possession, he’s giving assists, he’s scoring. He’s not a [finished] product by any means, but he’s starting to take advice from other people, applying it and becoming a little bit more of a complete player.”
Saucedo’s parents were watching from home when Saucedo sent a scorcher from outside the box into the back of the net at Seattle last month. His mom later told him that his father was so overwhelmed with pride, he had to leave the room.
“I’ve had a couple goals in Mexico,” Saucedo said of one season he was on loan to Liga MX team Veracruz, “and he was there for one of them, so I couldn’t believe hearing my mom tell me that, that he would be so emotional.”
Saucedo had expected a gruff, “Good job, on to the next one,” from his dad, Martin Saucedo. Sebastian, or Bofo as most call him, grew up training with his dad at the North 40 fields in Park City from a young age. Martin always wanted to set his son up in the best environment to advance his career, and Saucedo quickly rose from the Basin Rec (where he said he’d get access to the field house after school and stay there until it closed) to the Park City Soccer Club. It was his stint with South Weber club La Roca that put him on the RSL Academy’s radar.
“He had a knack to get by guys and then create either a pass for someone else, a shot for someone else, or he scored himself,” Juarez said. “So that’s the first thing. That’s the type of player you think have a high ceiling, and we can now put in a more competitive environment we can work on all the other things, the psychological and all that.”
So Saucedo left his family to join the academy in Casa Grande, Ariz. The lifestyle change was the biggest adjustment for Saucedo — on the field, he scored 50 goals in 60 appearances with the Academy’s U15/16 U.S. Soccer Development Academy matches, then another five goals in four matches with the U-17/18 squad.
Because of his success at the Academy, Saucedo was highly touted heading into the professional ranks as the first homegrown signing from Utah in July 2014, but at the time he didn’t have the benefit of being able to get minutes with the Real Monarchs, RSL’s USL affiliate that played its first season in 2015.
Though there have been some exceptions, “academy guys ... aren’t really ready to go from academy to first-team soccer,” Juarez said. “And so we all see a guy that can score in the academy and think he’s going to come [and do the same thing on the first team]. It’s not true.”
So Saucedo asked for a loan and played in Liga MX. When he returned to RSL last year, he was an occasional reserve. This season he came out swinging and hasn’t looked back, now not just a ballboy for Beckerman and Rimando, but playing and wearing claret and cobalt alongside them.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES AT REAL SALT LAKE
At Rio Tinto Stadium
Kickoff • Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • KMYU
Radio • 700 AM
Records • RSL 7-7-1, San Jose 2-9-4
Last meeting • Last meeting » RSL 4, SJ 0 1 (Aug. 23 at Rio Tinto Stadium)
About the Earthquakes • San Jose has not won since May 12, when it beat Minnesota 3-1. ... Chris Wondolowski enters the match seven goals shy of Landon Donovan’s all-time MLS record. ... Midfielder Anibal Godoy and defender Harold Cummings are away on international duty. ... Defender Shea Salinas is sidelined due to injury. ... Joel Quiberg (knee) is listed as questionable.
About RSL • They enter the match with a six-game home winning streak. ... Kyle Beckerman has scored four goals against the Earthquakes since 2006. ... RSL goalkeeper Alex Horwath (achilles), midfielders Jordan Allen (knee) and Luke Mulholland (back), and defenders Tony Beltran (knee), Shawn Barry (knee), and Demar Phillips (ankle) remain sidelined. ... Joao Plata (back) is listed as questionable.