Justen Glad lined up next to his Real Salt Lake teammates at midfield inside Rio Tinto Stadium looking up at a supersized picture of his face displayed on the stadium’s 4,200-square-foot video board.
The 18-year-old former Catalina Foothills High School player was making his first home start for Real Salt Lake last July.
The announcer got to Glad’s name.
“Number 14, defender, Justen!…” and per RSL tradition, and in perfect synchrony, the sea of over 20,000 fans yelled, “GLAAAAAAD!”
At that moment the 6-foot, 145-pound teenager realized his life-long dream of becoming a professional athlete had come true.
Glad turned down a full-ride scholarship to Stanford to turn pro. At 17, he became one of the youngest players in Major League Soccer when he signed a $36,500 contract with RSL in April 2014.
Just three years ago, Glad was a 15-year-old freshman playing varsity soccer for the Falcons. On Saturday, Glad and Real Salt Lake will take on the Columbus Crew in the Desert Diamond Cup at Kino North Stadium. Next year, Glad will make $100,000 with RSL playing the game he’s always loved.
“Whenever people asked me what I wanted to do when I was older, I would just say I wanted to be a professional athlete,” Glad said. “I never pictured myself behind a desk.”
‘Good from the start’
Glad’s family moved to Seattle from Pasadena, California, when he was 6 months old. It was there that Glad’s love for soccer started. His dad, Bill, remembers taking Justen to watch his older sibling’s games and Justen begging to play.
“The thing about third-born kids, or the youngest kid, is they get tired of waiting,” Bill said. “He was good from the start.”
Glad’s family moved to Tucson from Seattle to be closer to family in Sierra Vista. Glad enrolled at Catalina Foothills, where he made the varsity soccer team as a freshman. He immediately made an impression on then-Falcons coach Julie Walters.
“It was just apparent the moment he took the field that he was a special player,” Walters said. Glad was a scrawny kid who couldn’t impose his will physically in a game but had the technical skills and versatility to heavily influence the game positionally and make his teammates better, Walters said.
“He really can fill a lot of different roles on a team because of the skill- sets that he possesses,” she said. “He’s technically sound, he’s very good on the ball, he’s a brilliant distributer and of course he’s a great defender. He’s a piece of the puzzle that can fit in many different places.”
Glad helped lead Catalina Foothills to the state tournament in 2012. The Falcons lost in the semifinals.
He said that season of high school soccer was his most enjoyable one.
“It’s a different dynamic now knowing that your job is on the line as opposed to just messing around with friends. In terms of enjoyment, I think high school soccer was the best just because it was so fun,” he said.
After excelling at both his high school and club team, Cisco, Glad was nominated to try out for RSL’s youth academy team.
Glad made the team and left Catalina Foothills his sophomore year to become a full-time resident at the RSL academy in Casa Grande.
“There was always a calmness with his game,” then-RSL academy coach Freddy Juarez said. “It almost seemed like he made the game look casual but it’s just he is that much better than players his own age.”
During his time with the academy, Glad put together a consistent run of good performances, led the team to a national championship, earning national awards along the way.
Turning down Stanford
Glad’s success with the academy drew the attention of Stanford, which had been keen on inviting the defender for a visit. Glad’s family made the trip to Palo Alto to tour the facilities and watch the Cardinal play. Glad saw all he needed on the visit and verbally committed to the Cardinal.
“I’ve always wanted to go there,” Glad said. “My dad went there. His sister went there. I went to the campus and loved it.”
But Glad was then approached by Real Salt Lake with an offer to sign a pro contract and, according to Glad’s dad, it sent the family into “a bit of a tailspin.”
“We were freaking out a little bit,” Bill said. It took his son about a month to thoroughly think over the decision. The process was exhausting for Justen.
“He had all of these conversations and by the end of it I think it was really clarifying that, yeah he wanted to go pro,” Bill said.
Glad was offered a contract four days after his 17th birthday; about a month later he signed to be a professional soccer player.
Glad remembers the “insane” nerves he felt going into his first practice with RSL. “I was super nervous. I probably didn’t say a word the first day, to be honest,” he said.
Glad has settled in with the club. He played in seven games as a rookie, starting six. He said while he enjoys being a pro, it’s a different dynamic when soccer becomes a job.
“At the end of the day you’re competing for a job. At this level you can be playing in someone’s spot who is trying to support a family and at the same time you’re trying to make money and do what you need to do,” he said.
New job, same routine
Glad now lives with his mom and dad and older brother, Eric, in a home in Salt Lake City. Bill says the arrangement helps Justen feel relaxed because he has the same routine he did when he lived in Tucson.
“Our job is to make sure that the strange world of adult male professional athlete doesn’t overwhelm him,” Bill said. “We wanted him in a family situation and we wanted him to find a high school where he could finish his high school degree.”
Justen completed his high school degree last year and is taking general studies courses online at a community college in Salt Lake City and plans to transfer to the University of Utah to pursue a business degree.
But life is about more than business. Eric, who played soccer at Pima Community College, said Justen is still a typical 18-year-old.
“We hang out in the mornings until he goes to training and at night we are still sitting on the couch playing the same video games, the same as we always do,” Eric said.
Glad has a small to-do list when he arrives back in the Old Pueblo. Top of the list: buy a Sonoran hot dog from a street vendor.