A new day has arrived for Real Monarchs, as the USL club and Real Salt Lake’s second team sits on the precipice of its third season. With a new philosophy brought from the top of the organization down and a new impression of how best to utilize the club to develop talent, there also comes a new head coach, as Mike Petke took the reins after previous coach Freddy Juarez was promoted to a role as an assistant coach with the first team.
That move is chief among those that have made an impact to the club as it kicks off season three on Saturday against Portland Timbers 2 and Petke, who coached two seasons with the New York Red Bulls in 2013 and 2014, is as thrilled as anyone to get things started.
“There are two things I’m excited about. The first is to see what we’ve done in the preseason in a real game environment – and we’re far from where I think we can be,” he said. “On a personal level, I don’t care if there’s one person at the game or 20,000, I’m excited to get back on the sidelines. It’s where I’m most comfortable.”
For the majority of the club’s first two seasons, the focus was on developing young talent and the roster was chock full of young players striving for first team action. However, without veteran leaders to pave the way, it was difficult for some of those players to keep the level elevated enough to mimic what is expected at the MLS level.
Now with an influx of players with MLS experience, the talent level and expectations have been raised as the Monarchs look to reach the postseason for the first time in the club’s brief history.
That includes former RSL and New York City FC midfielder Sebastian Velasquez. And former Philadelphia Union, LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo forward Chandler Hoffman. And a pair of former Portland Timbers in Taylor Peay and Nick Besler. Hoffman, Peay and Besler all have lifted an MLS Cup and look to get back to that level with Real Salt Lake and see the Monarchs as a prime opportunity to show what they can do.
“I’m constantly challenging players like them, among others, that have that taste in their mouths. They have to be the standard,” Petke said. “They don’t have to be the best player on the field all the time, but their work rate, their personality, their leadership qualities have to shine through.”
While Peay only recently joined the team, Hoffman and Besler were among nine players that were with RSL during preseason, getting things started early in camp and training at a high level to change the standard as they return to the Monarchs.
“I think the strength of this team is the nine or so players that spent significant time with the first team in preseason. From raising their game to their mentality to seeing now what it takes to get to that level, I think these guys are going to be relied on a lot to push and drive this team on the field,” Petke said. “Having said that, I don’t care who they are or where they’ve been, if they’re not the best player for that position we have, they’re not going to play. That’s part of the learning process. Nothing’s guaranteed. You have to earn everything you get.”
At the goalkeeper position, the Monarchs have a pair of relatively untested players on the roster. Connor Sparrow and Andrew Putna were both SuperDraft picks for Real Salt Lake over the last two years and both figure to compete for the starting minutes. That they will likely play behind a veteran defensive group should be beneficial for both.
Defensively, the Monarchs return Max Lachowecki on the left and center backs James Moberg and Emilio Orozco. Along with Peay, another UW and Portland Timbers 2 product in Michael Gallagher joins the team to bolster the defense and Kyle Curinga was signed at right back after two seasons in Finland.
In the middle of the park, Jesus Leal and Charlie Adams both return and Besler brings further experience while Velasquez and Karsten Hanlin man the attacking roles. Leal and Adams were late additions last season, giving them a running start on time in 2017, while Velasquez has one goal and five assists in 50 career MLS appearances before spending last season in the NASL with Oklahoma City.
On the wings, Andrew Brody is the lone returner and he will compete for time with Chase Minter and Daniel Haber. Brody had two goals and one assist in his first pro season with the Monarchs while Haber posted seven goals and four assists for Vancouver’s USL side and Minter split time between the Sacramento Republic and Tulsa Roughnecks.
Finally, at the striker spot, Hoffman brings a bevy of experience, with 20 MLS matches and 57 USL appearances under his belt. Although the former first-round pick of the Philadelphia Union didn’t score in MLS action, he does have 31 goals in the USL, including 13 in 17 matches in 2014 with LA Galaxy II and 14 goals in 28 matches for Louisville City last season. He will join Utah Valley University product Skyler Milne, who signed in recent weeks to add depth to the attack.
As the roster has developed over the course of the preseason, Petke has gotten more and more optimistic about what the team can do in 2017.
“It’s interesting. Like every team, we’ve had some ups and downs during preseason, but the good part that I’m very confident in is that we’ve seen improvement on a weekly basis,” he said.
Things start on Saturday on the road against Portland Timbers 2, before the Monarchs return home on April 1 to host Phoenix Rising FC.