On Wednesday, while players were shuffling around from team-to-team with the MLS Expansion Draft, MLS Waiver Draft and the opening of another trade window, the Real Monarchs took another step toward the start of their inaugural season with USL’s Annual General Meeting in Clearwater Beach, Florida.
To get caught up on the club, RealSaltLake.com sat down with Real Monarch’s President Rob Zarkos for a brief Q&A.
Q: What is the lay of the land with the Real Monarchs and USL Pro?
Rob Zarkos: Things are going really, really well. We’ve got our franchise all lined up. We’ve already participated in several league meetings. I’m flying out for the Board of Governors meeting. There are going to be a lot of big changes to the USL. They’ve almost doubled in size. There will be changes in scheduling, length of the season, there will be some realignment done. We’ve decided on half of those things and we will decide on the others once we get there, but there will be some good stuff. I’m pretty excited about the competition we’re going to be seeing.
Generally, we are looking good on a new stadium. We’re deep in negotiations with the state and there are a couple of terms that we’re negotiating trying to get to the final lease. We are hoping that the legislature gives us approval and votes on that in either February or March. At that point, we’ll be ready to put shovels in the dirt and start building our new stadium out near the fair park. That’s all looking positive.
We’ve got our coach lined up and we’ve just finished a contract for our assistant coach. Those should be announced within the next couple of weeks.
USL will be partnering with RSL in our Casa Grande combine down there in the next couple of weeks and we are hoping to identify a few players out of that. We will also be sending our technical staff to the MLS Combine and we will be drafting for both teams there. In March, we will be doing a local tryout and hopefully we can find local talent we can sign to the team. That will happen in the first or second week of March and it looks like our first game will be somewhere around the weekend of March 20.
We’ve got commitments for about 650 season tickets and we’ve sold six ledge boxes, a couple of suites. There has been some interest and it’s going pretty well so far.
Q: What’s the next step?
RZ: The next step for us is really solidifying the coaching staff and getting the technical staff lined up to sign players. We are going to have a little bit of a challenge because we will be integrating players coming from our academy with new signings within our system, which runs from the academy all the way up. Next year is going to be a really interesting year getting all of those moving pieces aligned into one working machine. That’s the big challenge for us coming up.
Q: Give me an idea of what the goal is of the team. Obviously you will be developing players for the first team, but where does winning fit into that? How do all of those pieces fit together.
RZ: From the beginning, I’ve been instructed to make this a viable business model. We’re not just getting a development team to come in and get games. We care about getting butts in the seats and providing quality entertainment to people in the community and really running this like a business. We are going to develop and that’s part of this, but we want to win. No coach wants to come in and be told that he’s not going to try and win. We’re also trying to attract fans and sell popcorns and drinks. It’s a full-on business model that’s integrated on the player-personnel side. I think that helps us. It trains us on the business side because we can train people to run all the way up and it trains us on the player-personnel side too.
Q: What do you expect the roster to look like when things kick off in March?
RZ: Let’s be totally honest. The big hold up on all of this is the MLS CBA. That’s driving all of this. We can’t even estimate what it’s going to look like right now because we don’t know what that’s going to look like. There are so many things that are up in the air right now. What we’re planning on doing is having four-to-six spots for players on the MLS roster to come down and get games and train with us. We’re also planning on signing or having a couple of the academy kids rotate in and out to get games. Then we are looking to sign 10-18 pure USL players. Some of those will be former academy players. Some will be former prospects that we didn’t sign at a certain point. But again, that’s just finger in the air stuff because of the CBA. We really won’t know until February or March until that is figured out.
Q: Is there a model for this? How much can you mimic LA Galaxy II who started USL play last year?
RZ: It really is uncharted territory. There’s no real model. LA Galaxy has been really successful with what they’ve done, but that model is changing for them too. It’s going to be a lot of trial by fire. That being said, we are going to bring some exciting players in. It’s more the technical issues that the CBA will dictate.
Q: It’s got to be exciting going into these meetings then.
RZ: Yeah. It’s a lot of changes for the league. You have to be sensitive because they’ve been around for so long and it’s not like we get to dictate what the whole league is going to do. You have to do what’s best for the league and they are a separate and distinct league. But it’s fun coming in and being part of the process of creating a whole new look for their entity. It’s not us driving anything. We’re just a part of the process.
Q: As dominoes fall, when will fans start to see a distinct identity to this team?
RZ: We are going to sign everybody under the current regime and how it is set up. We aren’t waiting to find out what happens with the CBA before we do anything. We are going to march ahead and we may have to shuffle. So we’re going to start identifying and signing players in December and January. By the time we hit March and we have our local combine, we will know what the team is going to look like and we think the public will know too. That’s our hope, to really get people familiar with the players that are coming in to play for us.
Q: What should fans be most excited for?
RZ: I just think we will be a little more open than MLS is in the pomp and circumstance that we can bring to each game. At the end of the day, it’s going to be fun. We’re going to do a lot of stuff pregame. A lot of stuff in game. There’s going to be a lot of access to players and coaches and autograph alleys. Especially because it’s here at Rio Tinto Stadium where people are used to coming to see games. We get to use a lot of assets that most USL teams don’t get to use and we’re going to try and program that to the fullest.