Real Monarchs

Keller Storlie: Leading by Example

With the transfer of a prodigious 14-year-old, Cavan Sullivan, from the Philadelphia Union Academy to Manchester City in the European soccer’s top league, the sporting world is investigating talented youngsters in the States with an unprecedented intensity. Real Salt Lake and their developmental B-side playing in the MLS Next Pro league, Real Monarchs, contribute to this young pool of talent significantly - touting names familiar to MLS fans like Diego Luna, Axel Kei, Zavier Gozo and most recently Fidel Barajas, all 20 years old or younger. With development at the core of Real Salt Lake’s identity, the Monarchs’ serve as a proving ground for RSL’s next generation of young stars - and the roster is packed full of talent that has our community buzzing with excitement.

Through three matches in their 2024 MLS Next Pro campaign, Monarchs are dead-even across the board, 1-1-1, but have earned five points from their two matches at home in Utah. Their best performance came on Saturday night in Herriman as they took down Minnesota United 2 by a score of 2-1 to capture their first W. With a Monarchs lineup that featured the likes of RSL first-teamers Gozo, Matthew Bell, Tommy Silva and Jude Wellings, it can be tempting to focus on familiar names, but an unsung hero is emerging this season in the form of Keller Storlie.

“He has a very good temperament and a good demeanor. Everyone in the locker room respects him because of who he is as a person. He’s very much a lead-by-example kind of guy … and does the right thing … he’s a great guy and they like him so they’re going to follow him. Yeah, he was the obvious choice for captain,” said Real Monarchs Manager Mark Lowry.

A player reminiscent of the tag “glue guy” or “swiss army knife” Storlie takes on many responsibilities for Lowry’s squad. At 22 years of age, Storlie has parlayed his maturity as both a player and person into a captaincy for this year’s team, donning the illustrious white and black armband last Saturday in Herriman. Not just personally mature, Storlie’s physical maturity affords him a level of impact on the game not wielded by others. A defender, Storlie combines his 6’2’’, 215-pound frame with bravery, composure, measured aggressiveness and a physical playstyle to hold opposing attackers at bay, but that’s not all he’s asked to do.

Talking with Storlie, he remarks on the hard work he’s put into his game showing itself on the pitch this season. “I think my tactical awareness has improved a lot, just getting the game experience has been really important. As a center back, and then I’ve also been put on outside back as well, just learning those two positions more and at a higher level … Understanding what the coach wants tactically really helps me to be versatile. I think also being able to play the ball well, and especially with both feet, helps me to go out wide.

Using Saturday’s tactical setup from Lowry as a case study observing his impact over the match, Keller is the lynchpin around which Monarchs can blend defensive shapes. Specifically on Saturday, Monarchs lined up defensively in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but when in possession of the ball morphed to a 3-4-2-1 with high-overlapping fullbacks stepping off the back line and pushing through the midfield. When defending, Storlie is asked to line up with a wider disposition, beating Minnesota attackers and winning the ball with physical play. However, because of this shifting tactical identity, he is often asked to shift inside as a central defender in the back line of Monarchs’ 3-4-2-1 formation used in possession, tasked with playing the ball creatively and preventing counter attacks. “Keller is intelligent enough to understand that role, and he’s good enough on the ball to play that position … He has enough attributes that you can play him as a right back or central … So it’s very good to have that,” said Lowry. 

Essentially, Storlie is asked to take on the roles of central defender, wide defender and even defensive midfielder interchangeably, all while leading his team as Captain and directing the flow of communication through the team. When asked about leading his team and communicating while being in so many diverse roles and lineups that change week-to-week, “I think short and sweet is the best [communication style]. Everything happens so quickly on the field so those short, direct, specific instructions help a lot … sometimes I even break out some Spanish to talk to [my Spanish-speaking teammates], but I try to keep everything simple.”

It is this versatility and consistency at the heart of Monarchs’ defensive setup that has allowed his manager the freedom to explore more fluid and dynamic strategic approaches, unlocking the strengths of those around him. As a core principle of the world’s game is the idea of continuous play, no tactical stoppages or timeouts, a player that can be trusted to regulate the emotional and motivational aspects of his team on the pitch while greatly contributing to the team’s success is any manager’s dream.

When asked if he has the potential and ability to one day make the jump to the next level, “Yeah, I think so. With the ability to play two positions, he needs to learn how to use his skill set. He is good on the ball, he is fairly athletic, he is quite tall, he has three or four really good things.” Continuing, “He’s super consistent, you know what you’re gonna get every week … he’s solid in every way with the ball and without the ball. Which is great.”

Need someone to show aerial prowess and win a one-on-one header in the box? Keller Storlie is your guy. Need someone to inspire his teammates to push for a last-minute equalizer? Keller Storlie is your guy. Do you need someone to beat out a pacey striker to a through ball over the top and prevent a scoring chance? Keller Storlie is your guy. And, arguably the most important, if you need someone to be a friend, a supportive teammate and a leader by example both on and off the pitch - Keller Storlie is 100% your guy.

Storlie, Gozo, Bell, Silva, Wellings and the rest of Lowry’s exciting 2024 Real Monarchs squad will next be in action at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah on Sunday, April 14, with kickoff scheduled for 7:00 MT against The Town FC (San Jose Earthquakes). To learn more about Storlie, his teammates and the many amazing stories around our organization, click here.