Competition, of any kind, demands evolution. The formula for success is constantly changing and some days it can feel like the finish line has all but disappeared from where it once was. Sports live out this reality everyday, a winner one day can be a failure the next, champions can find themselves at the bottom, and the mountain top high exists for a nanosecond before someone new and better takes the top spot.
This past year Real Monarchs faced this harsh reality.
In 2019 the Monarchs lifted high the United Soccer League Championship trophy, cementing their place in the league’s history. Since its inception the club has established itself as a blueprint for professional development, signing 12 players from the team to Major League Soccer contracts with Real Salt Lake, including current players Nick Besler, Andrew Brody, Maikel Chang, Bode Davis, Justin Portillo and Noah Powder. On the sidelines the development has been equally as impressive with two former head coaches taking the reins of the first team after their time with the Monarchs.
But accomplishments without championships is subject to interpretation and after a lackluster 2020 season with only three wins, the front office recognized that it was time to evolve if the team hoped to get back to it’s winning ways, thus a new blueprint was born -- Real Monarchs 2.0.
“When we sat back and looked at the organization as a whole we realized that in some ways the Monarchs were being underutilized,” Real Salt Lake Assistant General Manager Tony Beltran said. “We set out to best optimize our roster to promote opportunity and encourage growth through this pathway we’ve tried to create.”
In the past the genetic makeup of the roster has relied heavily on veterans with extensive USL experience, but now the team is shifting its focus to promising young internationals who have potential to earn a contract with RSL.
Already the soccer operations staff have signed six new players from around the globe, representing four countries and three continents. They bring with them both youth international experience and training from some of the world’s top academies, including FC Barcelona and Chelsea.
They will join the three lone returners from the Monarchs old model; Sam Brown, James Moberg and Jimmy Slayton. These athletes will be the only players signed to full USL contracts, the remaining roster spots will fluctuate with a combination of loan downs from Real Salt Lake and call ups from the Academy.
“This new way of thinking is in large part due to the massive work our scouting team has done to find and identify young international talent that we believe has the potential to develop and rise to the MLS level, which is something RSL has historically had success with -- finding young, undervalued talent and providing them a place to grow and flourish,” Beltran said. “Then being able to compliment them on either side with veteran leadership from our first team and exceptional rising talent in our academy allows us to provide a space for our athletes, at every level, to have the chance to gain experience and become accomplished which benefits us as a club in the long term.”
And while some may see this as just a slight change to the team’s former way of thinking, the truth is it’s a complete overhaul with one goal in mind, to streamline the pathway from recreation soccer to one’s first steps on the professional stage.
“We’ve essentially generated a velvet pathway for development and promotion of young talent that can be catered to each individual and what is best for them in this season,” Beltran said.
Aside from the increase in internationals, the greatest change lies within the Academy. In the past the Monarchs have utilized academy products on a more limited basis, perhaps seeing one or two gain long-term contracts and a few more appearing in a match here or there. But now these promising youngsters will make up almost a third of the roster.
And as previously mentioned, the flexibility in contracts with the Monarchs allows the club to give opportunities when they are most ready and at any point during the season. Those coming up from the academy may see playing time consistently throughout the season, or a late bloomer may impress with just a few games left, but the overall purpose remains to advance each individual at a pace that is right for them and sets them up for optimal success.
“With our academy players we are having to put trust in this process and the advocacy of the coaching staff to know when someone is deserving to be tested,” Beltran said. “Even within this pathway there is no one perfect way and the smoothness gives us the ability to carve out a space best suited for our athletes.”
Despite making drastic changes to the mentality and structure of the Monarchs winning still remains at the epicenter of every decision. But going forward success will be measured in more than just wins and losses and trophies. Is the team seeing players make the jump into the top league each season? Are players making a big enough splash to warrant international looks? Is the academy promoting players at a more efficient level and is it attracting more talent into the fold?
The answers to these questions may give a clearer and more accurate picture as to the team’s achievements.
The reality is that championships are imperative in sports, so once again lifting the USL Championship trophy is the pinnacle for this newly formed team, but this time with other caveats that will make standing atop the podium even sweeter.