Real Monarchs SLC is charting into new territory as it continues its journey through the 2019 USL Championship playoffs. After taking down Orange County SC at home and Phoenix Rising FC away, the Monarchs return to its fortress of Zions Bank Stadium to host El Paso Locomotive FC in the Western Conference Final.
Here are three key matches that could be critical in the fight for the Western throne:
David Ochoa vs Sebastian Velasquez
In the first meeting between Real Monarchs SLC and El Paso Locomotive at Zions Bank Stadium, the match ended in a scoreless draw despite El Paso having a man advantage for the better part of an hour. The 18-year-old goalkeeper David Ochoa played a critical part in securing the point in the Monarchs 2019 home opener with an incredible nine saves, including a fingertip save from a dangerous header on a set piece. El Paso has a new piece on the field however, through former Real Monarchs man Sebastian Velasquez. A threatening player from close range and on the set pieces, Velasquez is not afraid to strike from any angle and has the vision and creativity to set up his team with key chances. Saturday’s match will see Ochoa pit his 1.38 goals-against-average against a red-hot Velazquez who holds two goals and an assist so far through the playoffs.
Jack Blake vs James Kiffe
In the midfield, Jack Blake has been an engine between defensive and offensive halves for Real Monarchs. His quick one touch passes have been key in setting up the transition into the attacking run to catch opponents off-guard and open up the attack for Real Monarchs as well as taking chances of his own to record 11 goals throughout 2019. The defensive winger James Kiffe may be Blake’s counterpart on the El Paso side, reading the midfield to make 32 interceptions to kick off the counter for the El Paso Locomotive offense. His transitions have helped El Paso find the goal as he recorded 8 assists in the regular season and playoffs combined. On Saturday, it will be the quick passing of Jack Blake against the disrupting play of Kiffe as the two fight for the Western Conference Championship.
Douglas Martínez vs Andrew Fox
Douglas Martínez has provided the Monarchs with a key element to become one of the league’s greatest attacking threats. With 17 goals throughout regular-season and the playoffs, The Monarchs Golden Boot winner has proven clinical in in front goal from tight angles and can break away from his mark to open up chances. El Paso Locomotive Center-back Andrew Fox will prove to be a challenge near the El Paso frame. Fox has the defensive read of the field to be in the right place at the right time to track the opposing offense. His ability behind the ball has led to 99 clearances, 14 blocks and 28 interceptions throughout the season to disrupt the attack in his defensive third. It will be battle of wits as the quick and agile Douglas Martínez will look to break free from the tracking mind of Andrew Fox.