The Real Monarchs generated plenty of excitement across the Wasatch Front as the team proved its worth throughout the season, breaking records and claiming the USL Regular Season Championship while appearing in the USL Playoffs for the first time in just its third season. But the club’s first-ever playoff run abruptly came to an end in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, 120 minutes of postseason soccer and seven penalty kicks later.
The Monarchs entered the 2017 USL Playoffs as the top overall seed in the tournament affording the club home-field advantage for any playoff game that it earned the opportunity to feature in. Sacramento Republic FC was the first playoff suitor to visit Rio Tinto Stadium with eyes set on an upset of the league’s top team.
A 1-1 draw between the Monarchs and Republic FC in normal time saw the Monarchs claw its way back into the match after giving up an early second-half strike to Republic FC. Bringing the match to overtime thanks to a Chandler Hoffman penalty in the 87th minute, the Monarchs were temporarily able to sway momentum of the match in its favor as overtime commenced. Momentum shifted directly into the hands of the visitors as penalty kicks told an entirely different story for the Monarchs after 120 minutes of soccer had been played.
During the regular season the Monarchs gave away eight penalty kicks but opponents were only able to put a single spot kick past Mark Briggs’ goalkeepers, going 1 for 8 against the Monarchs in 2017. Confidence was high entering the quarter final shootout but Republic’s clinical spot kicks curbed the confidence and silenced the home crowd.
Eventually falling 3-1 in the shootout the Monarchs missed three of its four attempts seeing Republic FC goalkeeper Evan Newton save two shots while Daniel Haber was the only player able to slam home his spot kick.
Shock and anguish settled in for the 2,234 fans and the 30+ Real Monarchs players and staff in attendance at the first USL playoff match in Utah as visiting Sacramento celebrated ecstatically, becoming just the second visiting team in 2017 to claim victory over the Monarchs in Sandy. The shootout ended the Monarch’s hopes of a fairytale season that many thought would end with the Monarchs lifting the USL Cup in front of the Rio Tinto Stadium faithful.
Plenty to be Proud of
Although falling short of a first USL Cup, the club has more than enough to hang its hat on from this season.
Leading the USL for the majority of the season the Monarchs claimed the USL Regular Season Championship Shield in the second-to-last match of the season, earning the first silverware in team history. Before earning silverware, the team forced the USL to rewrite the record books as it set the league’s longest winning streak record after winning nine consecutive matches, a benchmark set by Orlando three seasons ago.
The team nearly tied the all-time points record (69) set by defending USL Cup Champions New York Red Bulls II a season ago, sparing only two points on the heels of the Eastern Conference side as the team finished with 67 points at season’s end. On top of the points total, the Monarchs nearly became the team with the highest regular season win total, coming up two wins shy of the record (22) after finishing with 20 wins on the year.
Prior to the 2017 season the Monarchs had won 17 total matches in its history and this season it surpassed 17 wins with four matches to spare in the regular season, setting the tone for future Monarchs sides seeking a USL Cup Championship.
Saying the team made positive leaps and bounds from previous seasons would be an understatement as the club defied league-wide expectations and set new precedents ahead of the greatly anticipated move to Herriman.
Next season the Monarchs will move into its new home at the south end of the Salt Lake Valley in the form of the 5,000-seat Zions Bank Stadium. The Monarchs’ new venue will provide a more intimate setting for the USL side, giving the team a house of its own and a home for fans and supporter groups alike to create an atmosphere that is unique only to the Monarchs.
Some faces will go, some faces will stay but one thing is certain: Having young talent playing alongside both the first-team and the Monarchs at the $72 million Zions Bank Real Academy will be indispensable and crucial to the growth of the club from top to bottom. In a developmental pyramid where the Monarchs fit squarely in the middle, youth development is vital to the success of the team and will help take the Monarchs even higher than this season’s successes.
Monarchs Head Coach Mark Briggs has always preached a ‘never satisfied’ attitude among his team and the end to a miraculous season will be sure to leave a sour taste in the team’s mouth. However, having an attitude where the last performance wasn’t good enough regardless of the result will create a greater hunger for the Monarchs in 2018 with a beautiful new home on the horizon, filled with players and fans that are hungry to hoist more silverware.