How RSL trading a homegrown player led to the acquisition of budding star Anderson Julio

Before Jan. 11, Real Salt Lake had made just one move in the offseason in acquiring striker Rubio Rubin. But then LAFC came calling about one RSL’s homegrown players, Corey Baird, and offered a deal the club couldn’t refuse.

RSL gave up forward Corey Baird in exchange for $500,000 in general allocation money spread out over two seasons, and an international roster spot. The return for Baird was significant considering his production fell off after winning MLS Rookie of the Year in 2018.

Two months and a day later, RSL brought in Ecuadorian winger Anderson Julio on loan from Liga MX’s San Luis. And while on the surface it would seem like one transaction had little to do with the other, the opposite is true.

RSL acquired Julio using a combination of the salary it saved by trading Baird, and then a portion of the GAM that came back, The Salt Lake Tribune has learned. Those figures virtually — though not exactly — lined up with how much it took to get Julio.

The Tribune has also learned that the club did not have to dip into any of the GAM it will receive in 2022. In essence, trading Baird and getting Julio was a like-for-like exchange.

The international spot RSL got for Baird is now occupied by Julio. A person with knowledge of the situation told The Tribune that the club also negotiated the option to purchase Julio’s loan at the end of season.

RSL tried to sign Julio two years ago, but he ended up with San Luis instead.

Better late than never. The 24-year-old’s addition has already bore fruit. He scored two goals in the team’s season-opening win over Minnesota United on the road, and was the first player to do so in a club debut since Robbie Findley on June 23, 2007.

“What you’re seeing is what we saw,” RSL coach Freddy Juarez said when asked what he liked about Julio two year ago. “We felt that in the [one-on-one situations], he was going to put the defender on his heels and he would be willing to go and he was brave. We liked his movement on the vertical. We liked his pace with the ball at his feet and carrying it.”

Of Julio’s 37 touches in his first two games, 18 of them have come in the attacking third, and half of those have come in the attacking penalty area, per Football Reference. In other words, he’s getting the ball in dangerous positions a lot.

One of the ways Julio is impacting the offense so much is with his speed. He said through a translator that when he was growing up, he enjoyed running sprints and that’s where his speed originated.

“He does show it in training and I think everybody’s aware of it,” RSL captain Albert Rusnák said of Julio’s speed. “But we want him to save his fastest runs for the Saturdays and for the game days. So if he doesn’t do it in training, it’s not a big deal.”

Julio earned a starting spot with strong play in the preseason, and got the nod over veteran Justin Meram, who started 13 of 21 games in 2020. Other wingers on RSL’s roster fighting for minutes are Maikel Chang and Jeizon Ramirez.

RSL is pursuing another winger, Jonathan Menéndez, who is currently playing with Club Atlético Independiente of Argentina, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Tribune. RSL is confident the purchase of Menéndez will get done, the person said.

But in the first two games, Julio has proven that he could be the winger of the future for RSL. And although it took two years for him to get arrive to Salt Lake City, the satisfaction of his addition exists on both sides.

“Now that I’m here, I’m very happy to get back my game rhythm, be in competition again and, above all, help the team and score goals,” Julio said. “That’s why I’m here.”