A group of Chandler teens has accepted opportunities to attend a prestigious high school soccer academy with ties to a professional club in Utah.
Chandler residents Chris Grote, Zion Vaughn and Noah Segura, who are all members of the Real Salt Lake affiliate in Arizona, will attend the Real Salt Lake Soccer Academy in Herriman, Utah to compete with the MLS affiliate’s under-15 team. Izahi Amparo, a 13-year-old Tempe resident and teammate of the three, also accepted a position.
All four will depart for Utah at the end of July and attend Real Salt Lake Academy High School, a public STEM charter school on the same grounds as the training facility.
“It’s going to be amazing,” Grote said. “I’ll be doing what I love 24/7 and being close to achieving my dreams because it feeds into the pro team. I think it will just be an amazing experience.”
Grote began playing soccer when he and his family moved from Chicago to Arizona at 8 years old. He found himself capitalizing on the offensive end, which helped grow his love and determination to succeed at the game.
When Grote isn’t practicing with RSL Arizona, he is doing drills and other training on his own. It’s that drive and work ethic that helped him earn a spot at the academy.
“We practiced with the group above us,” Grote said of the try out process. “We also competed against the others trying out. We did a lot of stuff with the older team and I think that showed the coaches what we were capable of.”
Grote and Vaughn frequently played on the same soccer teams growing up. At one point, them and Segura were rivals on clubs that battled for the top spot in their age group.
They all became teammates after Legacy Soccer Club and Sereno Soccer Club merged to form RSL Arizona in 2017. Now they all will further their careers together.
“I think it’s really cool,” Segura said. “I’m looking forward to being in that professional environment. We will get to see the first team train and the minor leagues. It’ll be fun to compete against others that are at high level.”
Segura began playing soccer at 2 years old and became serious about the sport at 7 when he began playing club soccer. On average, he trains two to three times a day. Sometimes it’s with a ball and other times it involves basic fitness.
His will to succeed, along with all he has learned from RSL Arizona coaches, makes him believe he is ready to take the next step in Utah.
“The coaching here and the other players have helped prepare me,” Segura said. “Going against my teammates every practice, they make me work harder.”
The boys will all stay in dorms in Utah. They will train with older academy teams and will have the opportunity to learn from members of RSL’s professional team. Matches will be played against other academies and international competition.
All four players agreed living in Utah will be a different experience than what they’re used to. However, they’re all also excited for the opportunity. Even if it does mean learning how to do things on their own.
“I already had to learn how to do my own laundry and cook,” Vaughn said, laughing. “It’ll be an adjustment being away from my family but it’s something I’ll get used to.”
It wasn’t until just two years ago Vaughn realized his potential on the pitch. When he first played soccer, he was also set on playing other sports such as football. But upon realizing the opportunities in front of him, he quickly focused solely on just one sport.
Like the others, he enjoys the thought of heading to Utah with teammates. He said it presents the opportunity for them to not train together, but also make things feel more like home.
“It brings me pure excitement,” Vaughn said. “I get to go do what I love with my friends and get a really good education. People who have gone there, one recently went to Liverpool and another went to UCLA. It’s a really good opportunity to improve on my soccer and my academics.”
Amparo, who is skipping a grade in order to attend the academy in the fall, shared the same sentiment as Vaughn.
“To know that you have support from because they know you and you know them, it’s a good feeling,” Amparo said. “Whether it’s on the field, in school or in the dorms, they’re always going to be there for me.”
Originally from Yuma, Amparo and his family moved to the East Valley after he was recruited by a club team at just 10 years old. He eventually found himself playing for RSL.
Despite being the youngest of the bunch, he carries the same amount of confidence as those who are older than him. The thought of competing against older competition at a high level doesn’t faze him.
He’s confident in his ability.
“I think I can handle it,” Amparo said. “My age group, it’s only the school year that differentiates it. To me, it’s about the mindset. If you believe in yourself, you can get through anything. I just think and believe in myself that I can do it.”
RSL Arizona coach Rafael Sifuentes was part of the reason the boys received the opportunity to try out for the academy. A coach within the RSL organization for many years, he believes each player has the potential to grow and learn.
“I’m excited for them to not only have the opportunity to go up there and improve and go to school,” Sifuentes said, “but they also get to learn at a high level. They have to continue to be focused, dedicated and committed. I’m excited for them.”