Grande Alums Roundup: Five Grande ‘brothers’ heading to the 2017 U-20 World Cup

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The U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team with five Grande Alums clinched a place at the 2017 U-20 World Cup in South Korea with a 2-1 win against El Salvador on Friday night. As soccer fans across the nation celebrate these young men’s successful qualifying run, it’s impossible to overlook a quintet of ‘brothers’ from Grande Sports Academy who played a major role in U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team’s recent success. All five young men – Justen Glad, Brooks Lennon, Danny Acosta, Aaron Herrera and Sebastian Saucedo – were the centerpiece of the incredible generation of 1997 born players at Grande Sports Academy that went to three straight U.S. Soccer Development Academy National Finals between 2013 -2015 and were crowned National Champions in 2013. They learned about success very early in their young soccer careers and their youth development path was always lit with bright lights. Growing up and developing in the structured environment of a residential academy, they learned about sacrifice, hard work and ‘brotherhood’ early on and it certainly helped them become the best versions of their young selves. Each of them has been on a different path since leaving the academy and they all have a unique story.

Justen Glad, originally from Tucson, Arizona, spent 2 and a half years at Grande Sports Academy and was an indispensable member and the captain of the 2013 USSDA U-15/16 National Championship winning team, also scoring in the championship game. Interesting fact is that Justen was always a remarkable student as well and had numerous top collegiate programs across the nation fighting for his early commitment including two time and current NCAA Division I Champion, Stanford University. However, he was considered one of the top prospects and best young defenders in the country and becoming a professional was a dream of his. Therefore, Justen signed his first professional contract with RSL as a homegrown player in 2014, only a month after turning 17. Justen contributes his development and fast rise among the professional ranks to the environment at the Grande where he spent most of his high school years. “The academy really helped me develop as a player and a person on many different levels. The training was top notch due to the facilities and the staff,” Justen said after qualifying to the 2017 U-20 World Cup alongside four of his ‘brothers’ from the academy. “I’ve built lifelong relationships at the academy and it will forever be a place I’ll have fond memories of,” he added. Justen has cemented his starting role in the Real Salt Lake’s back line with many exceptional performances in the past two seasons. Justen was a member of the U.S. U-17 National Team that competed in the 2013 CONCACAF U-17 Championship and represented the U.S. on the U-18 National Team level as well. Justen was named RSL Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 and was ranked No.15 on the Major League Soccer “24 Under 24” list in the 2016 MLS season.

Aaron Herrera is the very definition of the saying that hard work pays off and is an inspiration to young soccer players everywhere. Aaron arrived at Grande Sports Academy as a 15 year old skinny little kid and initially played on the U16 pre-academy team in his first year at the academy. Despite his size and strength shortcomings at the beginning, his big heart, love for soccer and his hunger for success were undeniable and his tremendous work ethic was always on display during his three years at Grande Sports Academy. Aaron spent hours doing extra work in the gym, lifting weights, working on agility drills, playing soccer tennis and he also expressed a lot of interest in nutrition while never neglecting school work and studying. He was one of those ‘late bloomers’ who certainly caught up with his peers and surpassed many of them in his last year at the academy. Aaron developed into an irreplaceable right back for the U/17-18 academy and received a number of college scholarship offers. All of it helped him become the player and young man he is today. “Honestly, I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am right now in my career and development if it wasn’t for the Grande and all of the staff there that helped pave the way for my growth as a player and a person,” Aaron said after arguably one of the biggest achievements of his young career on Friday night when it became clear that to the U.S. MNT will be heading to South Korea. Now at 5-foot-11, Aaron is one of the most athletic players in the country, playing at University of New Mexico, where he’s played 37 games, and has not missed any of the U-18 and U-20 Men’s National Team camps since his first call up. Here’s Aaron’s highlight from 2015 when he scored this incredible bicycle kick and added an impressive celebration to top it off.

Danilo “Danny” Acosta, who was born in Honduras and moved to Utah as young child, moved to Casa Grande from Utah in 2013 and spent two years at Grande Sports Academy. Danny was a natural born leader on and off the field and many of the younger players at the academy looked up to him. His understanding of the game, his ability to read the game and his natural athleticism impressed many and garnered a lot of interest among many college coaches. Danny’s leadership and consistent performances didn’t go unnoticed and he was called up to U.S. U-18 Men’s National Team training camp in 2014 and then to U-20 National Team in 2016 for the first time. Danny signed a Homegrown Player contract with Real Salt Lake at the end of 2015 and went on to play 18 games with RSL’s USL affiliate Real Monarchs in 2016.

Brooks Lennon, arguably one of the most talented young players in the country, signed a professional contract with Liverpool FC in the summer of 2015 after spending three incredible seasons at Grande Sports Academy. Brooks was one of the most important pieces of the puzzle during the U-15/16 academy team’s 2013 USSDA National Championship victorious run. Brooks scored once and had two assists in the final game against Solar Chelsea. In his last season at Grande Sports Academy, Brooks scored a remarkable 31 goals, only 3 less than the top scorer of the 2014-15 season, his fellow Grande alum Damian German. Brooks had an impressive first 18 months overseas playing with Liverpool U-18, U-21 and U-23 teams. It didn’t take him long to impress not only his coaches but also fans, media and other soccer experts. His tantalizing performances and some fantastic goals earned Brooks a spot among the “10 Liverpool academy players to keep an eye on in 2016/17” and some words of praise “…the versatile, highly gifted Lennon has a genuine chance of earning a first-team spot in the coming years.” During his time at Liverpool, Real Salt Lake kept a close eye on Brooks, and decided to extend a loan offer to the English Premier League club to bring Brooks back to the U.S. and MLS for a year.

Brooks’ goal against St. Kitts and Nevis in a 4-1 win

Sebastian “Bofo” Saucedo, who was born in California but raised in Utah, came to Grande Sports Academy in 2012 where he spent two very successful seasons. Sebastian was a prolific scorer and scored 50 goals in two seasons of U.S. Soccer Development Academy play for the U-16 academy team. He netted 19 goals during the incredible 2012-13 National Championship run and nearly doubled his tally in 2013-2014 season scoring 31 times while leading the U-16 academy team back to the championship game, where they ended up losing to the LA Galaxy. Furthermore, Sebastian played a crucial role in the 2014 Generation Adidas Cup (Major League Soccer’s U-17 championship) as he led the academy team to the final. His play earned him the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player and the Golden Boot as its leading scorer despite a penalty shootout loss to English club Stoke City’s academy in the final. During the tournament, Sebastian scored five goals in five games, including this world-class lob from 35 yards out against FC Dallas in the semifinals.

His extraordinary performances that season earned Sebastian the USSDA Western Conference Player of the Year award and Homegrown Player contract with Real Salt Lake. Sebastian appeared in nine MLS games for RSL in 2015 before the club loaned him to Liga MX club Veracruz in 2016. Sebastian has returned back to RSL for the start of the 2017 MLS season.

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