A View from the Booth: The First Ten
Something special is happening on the Wasatch Front, particularly at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy. The Real Monarchs of the United Soccer League currently sit second overall, boasting a six-game win streak that they will look to extend on Saturday against OC Blues.
Being a part of the broadcast team I have had the opportunity to witness, learn and evaluate what Real Salt Lake as an organization has done and continues to build upon at all levels.
In an organization that prides itself on cultivating youth in the American game, education regarding the beautiful game is flourishing, from ownership to the academy. A club that drives work ethic, the Monarchs provide the perfect opportunity for both young and old to showcase and help develop the game of soccer at a high level.
How did the Monarchs get to second overall and 9-1-0 to start the 2017 campaign?
Ahead of 2017 the club was looking to fill a plethora of gaps in the team, having only a handful of players still under contract after the 2016 season. Here was a team that finished with a 10-14-6 record and was a single game and a few other results that were out of their control away from their first post season berth, gazing at the dawn of something special.
Then Monarchs head coach Freddy Juarez laid the foundation for playing and trusting in youth just as he has done his entire coaching career. Oh, they were also left without a coach after Juarez was promoted to the first team by then head coach, Jeff Cassar.
Enter Mike Petke, the former New York Red Bulls head man was back in the game after nearly a two year hiatus away from the professional game.
The introduction of Petke was a welcome boost to the fans of the Monarchs in December of 2016 as he looked to shape the USL side into a top contender in the league. Petke’s tenure at the helm of the Monarchs didn’t last long, three months to be exact. In late March Petke made his glorious return to MLS when he was named the head coach of Real Salt Lake after leading just one game in charge of the Monarchs, a game in which his side won 2-1 over Timbers 2 in Portland.
With changes abound in SLC it was time for Mark Briggs to step into his leadership role. Briggs was promoted from assistant to head coach in light of Petke’s departure a mere game into the season. The highly-touted coach was on the club’s radar after he led a valiant effort in charge of Wilmington Hammerheads in a 2016 U.S. Open Cup tie against RSL, a game that the Claret-and-Cobalt eventually won in penalties.
Briggs quickly instilled a culture of non-complacency and the understanding that talent doesn’t always get you the full three points. These ideals he has cemented into his player’s minds since the day he took over.
Opportunity and change is clearly visible on the pitch since Briggs has settled into his tenure as coach. The tactical awareness and the chemistry of the club is unparalleled to years prior and is evident in the results. The way the ball flies across the field, the one-two touch play and an air of never being satisfied with the last result has propelled the organization to the forefront of the USL.
Experience and Tenderfoots
With the USL providing a proving ground for former, current and future Major League Soccer players, experienced players paired with players new to the professional game can provide an atmosphere to thrive in for players and fans alike.
With six goals apiece, the Monarchs are led by FW Chandler Hoffman and MF Sebastian Velasquez who have appeared in nearly every game for the club in 2017.
Former RSL first-teamer Velasquez has been the orchestrator of the attack, scoring goals and creating a plethora of chances week in and week out. Since returning to Salt Lake from a short stint with Rayo OKC and NYCFC, Velasquez has molded into a more stable and mature player and credit for that may fall to one of the world’s top strikers, David Villa at NYCFC.
An MLS Cup winner with the LA Galaxy, Hoffman has brought a strong sense of professionalism and reliability up top for the Monarchs as he continues to settle into his role in Sandy.
The organization’s management have scoured the country to find the top players to don a Monarch’s uniform while finding talent from its own back yard. Former Utah high school standout DF Taylor Peay made his return to the state after spending the previous two seasons in Portland, winning an MLS Cup in 2015 during his rookie year. Utah Valley University standout FW Skyler Milne was the first from the university to sign a professional deal, adding a massive 6’5” presence for coach Briggs to build on an already potent attack.
A strong center-back pairing in James Moberg and Michael Gallagher have played nearly every match paired with each other on the back line, giving a concrete sense of familiarity for Briggs and his staff as well as the goalkeeper behind them.
Goalkeeping hasn’t been an issue in the slightest in 2017, as three different goalkeepers have seen time between the pipes for the club. Andrew Putna, Connor Sparrow and RSL man Lalo Fernandez have all made their case to be the first-choice goalkeeper on the team sheet.
As you’re reading this Real Salt Lake and Real Monarchs are separating themselves from the pack in the MLS and USL by developing a world class academy, a stellar second division side and a home-base for cultivating the world’s game. In a business that is to be structured for long-term success, the organization is making the right moves for success in the American game. With the inception and rise of the Real Monarchs the positive development of the game is abundantly evident.
In just its third year of existence the club has built a stronger foundation and more rigid expectations than some USL sides do in 10 years. Some may say a judgment passed too early is devastating but performances from the first 10 games of the year say otherwise. Not only is the team winning at Rio Tinto Stadium but it is walking away with results on the road.
Ten games into the season a fresh team has been built, a new mentality has been implemented and there is still room to grow. Exciting soccer is happening in Salt Lake from the first team to the youth ranks and shows no signs of slowing down.