NOTE: The following appeared in the first edition of Real Salt Lake's new matchday program, "The Sovereign."
While Real Salt Lake was in Oceanside, California, and Tucson, Arizona, preparing for the 2016 season, the club’s USL affiliate was in Costa Rica readying for its second season in USL. Real Monarchs SLC played three matches in Costa Rica against teams in the first and second divisions over the course of a 13-day excursion, but that was far from the only objective for the team on its ever first preseason trip.
In addition to working to build the camaraderie, fitness and sharpness that come with preseason trips, the Monarchs also made a point to make a small impact on the community surrounding the practice field the team called home for the first portion of the trip.
While there was sight-seeing, grueling training sessions and competitive matches on the calendar, Head Coach Freddy Juarez smiled widest when talking about the pride the team felt when it went to a local orphanage to interact with the children and deliver school supplies to a very much in-need group of young students.
“It’s important for any club, any team … you’re not just a footballer. You owe it to people. It’s a big part of RSL. If we can help people, we need to help people. The Monarch players embraced that trip,” Juarez said of the day spent at the orphanage. “They helped serve food to kids. They played with kids. They elevated kids in some ways. The club took school supplies – calculators, pencils, spiral notebooks – things that may not make the biggest difference here, but made the biggest difference with that organization.”
Earlier during the school year, the orphanage was running out of school supplies and was concerned with how it would close out the final few months of the year. Now equipped with the supplies delivered by the Monarchs, the school will have enough to get through the year, but with things like calculators that were previously seen as luxury items that might rarely come through the school, they now have some lasting supplies that will carry on for years to come, as well.
A small portion of the trip in the grand scheme, the trip to the orphanage was a good instigator for the primary goals of the trip for Juarez and serves as a microcosm of what was developed on the soccer field as well.
“It’s eye-opening and you take a step back to see that those things can make a huge difference for a kid,” Juarez said. “I think that set the tone. After that, we knew where we were at. There were times when we were late because of traffic or it was horrible turf or we didn’t like the field we were on. It’s nice to see people go back to your roots. It’s easy to forget where we came from. You can’t forget that you worked hard to get here.”
On the field, the Monarchs opened the trip with a 2-1 defeat to Santos de Guapiles of Costa Rica’s first division. They followed that by routing Carmelita 3-0 before closing the trip with a 1-1 draw against Saprissa.
The Monarchs got goals from five different players and made considerable progress in the three matches.
“It was a very good trip. We got everything we wanted and more. It was a new experience for me and I think a new experience for the majority of our staff and the players. It was good to go and have good, strong competition. It’s a different world and a different style,” Juarez said. “What we wanted to really see was the team structure and we saw that. We were very hard to break down and last year we didn’t quite have that. Now we’re excited about that because we are going to be a better team throughout the year. Hopefully we can polish off a little bit in the attack and we’ll be an exciting team, I think.”
The Monarchs have a considerable core returning from the inaugural team. Goalkeeper Eric Osswald is joined by defenders Darian Copeland, Emilio Orozco and Riley McGovern, midfielders Alec Sundly and Tyler Arnone and forwards Maikon Orellana, Ricardo Velazco and Eti Tavares.
However, despite losing the club’s top three scorers from last year in Max Rauhofer, Emery Welshman (who was the first Monarchs player to sign with Real Salt Lake) and Lucas Baldin, Juarez is confident that the new additions to the team can more than make up for the absence of those 20 combined goals.
Among the first new players on the roster were RSL-AZ Academy product Andrew Brody and USL veteran Colin Rolfe, as well as Jamaican National Teamer Kevaughn Frater and Honduran midfielder Elder Torres. Several more players are likely to added as the months roll on, adding talent all over the field to enhance the squad and complement the established players.
“We wanted to get quicker, faster, stronger. With the help of the club and everybody that was involved in identifying players, we did that. It’s exciting,” Juarez said. “I think we got better all around the team and added more depth, which is huge for a team. When you want to get further down the year and have more results, you’ve got to have competition every day and I think we did that.”
In the 2015 season, the Monarchs went 7-13-8, but closed the season with five consecutive wins. The momentum from that finish has carried strong into 2016, with players working out together throughout the Utah winter.
Now, Juarez and his staff are ecstatic at the possibilities ahead in the new season.
“What we did the first year started the culture and every single player that was brought in last year contributed to that. Everyone put in a part. Now, it’s just everybody having an understanding of what we’re doing and everyone contributing,” he said. “It’s going to be a fun and exciting team and we hope we can do well and the fans can see some wins. We want to reward the fans and the supporters group and Mr. Hansen who put a lot of investment into this team. As a coach, you don’t want to get over-excited, but it’s hard to not get excited with the group we put together this season.”