For two years, Real Monarchs SLC was a competitive club in the USL, but fell just short of reaching the postseason in both seasons. A complete reassessment of how the club approached the third season has resulted in the Monarchs running away with the Western Conference and clinching the club’s first postseason berth on Saturday.
The Monarchs are 17-4-4 and seven points clear of San Antonio atop the Western Conference standings. The resurgence has come on the strength of a roster completely retooled from the 2016 squad.
“The first two years we were trying to figure out how it works and how everything goes together. I think this year we’ve figured that out,” Real Salt Lake Vice President of Soccer Operations Rob Zarkos said. “We’ve realized that we need a competitive winning team in which certain identified players can develop.”
Starting last summer, the technical staff began making a list of potential targets that would add veteran leadership and experience to a roster that included still-developing talent that had the potential to work its way up to Real Salt Lake’s roster. Some players arrived sooner than others, but eventually the Monarchs added USL and MLS veterans Charlie Adams, Chandler Hoffman, Nick Besler, Taylor Peay, Daniel Haber and Sebastian Velasquez, among others. During the summer transfer window, three more attacking pieces added even more depth to that potent offense.
“We realized quickly that the best way to develop is to win and surround those guys that you want to develop with professionals,” Monarchs Assistant General Manager Dan Egner said. “I don’t think they’ve hit their full potential yet, so in a sense they’re all developing.”
They came from a variety of places, but all of those targets shared the same belief that the message from the Monarchs and the RSL organization was one that was highly appealing to players who aspired to find success at the USL level and have the potential to earn first-team contracts.
“I saw their vision and what they were piecing together here. I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” said Hoffman, the leading scorer for the Monarchs with 14 goals. “The opportunity to progress to the first team was something that intrigued me and excited me.”
The bulk of the new signings joined the first team in preseason, a few weeks before the Monarchs opened camp in February. That opportunity to play with the MLS club and experience the level of play set the tone for the Monarchs, as the six players who returned with the USL club brought back a new standard for the rest of the team to follow.
In addition to Hoffman’s 14 goals and seven assists, others have been contributing in big ways too. Velasquez, once a regular contributor for Real Salt Lake and sought piece for expansion NYCFC in 2015, has seven goals and six assists. Haber has six goals and three assists. Adams has seven assists. With those players fueling the attack, there are several players contributing on the defensive side too, including Besler – the captain who signed a first-team contract recently.
Early cohesion within the group has been key to reaching that level of success from the get-go and staying motivated even while running away from the pack in the Western Conference.
“We jelled from the beginning. Since then it’s carried on throughout the season and now we’re getting toward the end of the season. We never imagined things would play out the way they are,” Velasquez said. “It starts with the coaching staff. They know what the standard is to be at the top level and to win a championship. They’re always keeping us motivated.”
Even with the incredible success in the regular season thus far, Head Coach Mark Briggs has kept the goals of the season in perspective. With a playoff berth clinched and several USL on the horizon, the focus remains on lifting the cup at the end of the season.
“We haven’t achieved anything yet,” Briggs said. “Until we have a USL championship, they haven’t reached the goal that we ultimately want.”