The Real Monarchs are now 20 matches into the season and the team stands eight points clear at the top of the USL table with 48 points through a tough stretch of games over the past three weeks. Through impressive performances at home and on the road the club has continued its meteoric rise to the top of the USL.
The latest result, a scoreless draw with the Tulsa Roughnecks completed a grueling stretch of games that saw the team play three games in an eight-day span. Two of those three games were played in the blistering heat of Texas, a 2-2 draw at San Antonio before a 2-1 win at Rio Grande Valley FC gave the Monarchs some separation from the rest of the Western Conference pack.
Midseason, regardless of what league a team is playing in, is typically the toughest run of games that a team will go through. Injuries, fatigue, fitness and form all play a role in a team’s midseason success. The Monarchs have used consistency and a deep roster to maintain their run of form to continue their explosive start to the season. The game against Tulsa was the first time in 2017 that fatigue and tired legs were clearly visible on the Rio Tinto Stadium pitch.
“I think you could see in the play tonight that Texas took a lot out of us.’ That’s the third game in eight days. I just said effort-wise I can’t fault them,” Head Coach Mark Briggs said after the draw.
With players such as Sebastian Velasquez and Charlie Adams returning from injury, the Monarchs have been able to alleviate some of the midseason pressure where the heat and long stretches of games tend to break teams down.
Continuity has been key for the Monarchs in 2017, with players from Real Salt Lake entering the fray for various reasons, the team has been able to use experience and a deep roster to integrate the first-team players on a week-to-week basis almost flawlessly.
Most recently MF Jose Hernandez and DFs Chris Schuler, Reagan Dunk and Justin Schmidt spent game time with the Monarchs with each going 90 minutes in the draw with Tulsa. With the most recent first teamer’s spending time with the USL side, it has been evident that in 2017 both RSL and the Monarchs have developed a tighter relationship and the players all have a mutual respect and work ethic for one another both on the field and off. Hernandez, the former Co-Pac-12 Player of the Year brought energy and spark to a tired Monarchs side in the game against Tulsa, just a day before he was slated to play in the 2017 MLS Homegrown Game in Chicago. The pockets of space he found on the pitch and the control going forward complimented the movement and playmaking ability of Sebastian Velasquez well.
Numbers and records have been of the essence and have been a large talking point in the USL this year and the Monarchs are redefining what the numbers in the record books look like. Earlier in the year the club broke the record for the longest winning streak after winning nine games in a row dating from April 22 to June 19. The Monarchs were hunting the USL home winning streak record but their journey came to an end in the draw with Tulsa as their streak halted at 10 games dating back to last year.
The Monarchs still hold onto an impressive undefeated record at home standing a tall 9-0-1 while gripping to second place in the goals scored category with 44, only two tallies behind first year side and Western Conference rival Reno 1868 FC.
Individual honors are plentiful for the Monarchs with FW and USL MVP candidate Chandler Hoffman’s goal scoring leading the pack. His 13 strikes on the year currently hold third place behind Reno’s Dane Kelly and Charleston’s Romario Williams, both with 14. Hoffman has been a menacing force against opposing sides and with five and six assists from MFs Charlie Adams and Sebastian Velasquez respectively coming from behind him, one would have to expect Hoffman’s goal tally to rise as the playoffs grow nearer.
With the Monarchs hosting three of the next five inside the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium, the club has an enormous opportunity to grow and maintain their rule over the USL. Soccer fans across the Wasatch Front may be in for an extended season for both RSL and the Monarchs if the teams keep up their current runs of form as the fall quickly approaches.
The USL’s playoff structure presents the opportunity for the highest seeded team to host playoff matches each week and a championship if it is to remain at the top of the table. The next several games will likely shape where the Monarchs end up at the end of the regular season. It will begin with an August 5 match in Oklahoma City against the Energy, a team it toppled a mere four weeks ago.