Last season, Real Monarchs were bad. Real bad.
And I don't mean bad in the sense that they were unskilled. It certainly was never a case of that. And I certainly don't mean that they weren't a capable squad, because we have evidence to the contrary.
A few things conspired to make Real Monarchs miserable for all but the last five games of the season, though. Further, we can expect solutions to those issues already, giving us reason to hope for much better results to start the season.
No 2015 preseason
This one's as simple as the title sounds. In 2015, there wasn't a preseason to speak of. There were no open friendlies, there was no travel — it was just the team getting thrust into the fray. As a result, the team seemed unprepared to handle formational challenges, tactical questions, and every sort of routine playing concern that comes up through the season.
They did score the occasional wondergoal, of course, and some of the players looked pretty interesting. But it took the team a good four months to figure themselves out, and that made it extremely difficult.
In 2016, the team put together a lengthy preseason: They were training before Real Salt Lake started. Because of collective bargaining agreement concerns, RSL couldn't really start preseason earlier, so this isn't a case of one team being more on the ball than the other.
Instead, this is just an indication that Real Monarchs understood what happened last year, and they've taken steps to fix it. This year, the team went to Costa Rica, where they played a host of teams, then they took on a number of local university teams.
A proper team
When Real Monarchs started their season, they had a grand total of 14 players on their roster. Only four of those players were defenders. For several weeks after the season started, they continued to add players, and eventually, they had a complete squad. But it took a while, and that hurt the team's continuity.
Part of that was down to expectations that academy players would be joining the team regularly, and part was down to expecting RSL players to be loaned down regularly. But those expectations weren't particularly realized, in part because RSL needed nearly all of their players throughout the season because of injuries, and in part because that sort of approach didn't lead to development opportunities for Real Monarchs players.
This year, they have an exciting-looking 18-man squad. There's still room to grow, and they will probably add a few players as the season wears on — they have to be able to take opportunities as they come, particularly as academy players come through the ranks. But it's also filled with young international players while retaining a focus on bringing up academy players.
Yeah, yeah. Substitution patterns are a weird talking point. I know. But the first half of the season was riddled with four or five-sub games, and that left Real Monarchs on the back foot more often than not. Changing out three players is sometimes too much for a team to handle; four is basically a non-starter.
The desire was almost certainly to focus on development, but it's just as important that players can find success as it is that they earn minutes. If their minutes aren't successful, development is a lost cause.
To the coaching staff's credit, they figured this out relatively quickly. When they corrected that issue, the team looked significantly improved over 90 minutes.