Real Salt Lake didn’t just stumble on Connor Sparrow by happenstance after a 2017 season with Real Monarchs, but it’s easy to forget that.
It’s so easy, in fact, that I kept forgetting that myself. Sparrow, after all, didn’t just join the organization at the beginning of the year. The long-haired wonder was actually first picked up in an official capacity by the first team in January 2016, when he was selected as the team’s final selection in the 2016 MLS Draft.
Sparrow, then 21, wasn’t expected to feature for RSL at the time. He was, after all, a late pick. You couldn’t even really describe his selection as a gamble, simply because we had Real Monarchs and we knew he was going straight there, if he stayed in the system at all.
And so it was that Connor Sparrow started his professional career. That first year, he played two matches total, and you’d be totally forgiven if you forgot about that. I did.
2017 started more or less the same for Sparrow. He was still very much behind Lalo Fernandez in the rotation, and Fernandez was expected to see minutes for Real Monarchs primarily.
But two things happened: First, Nick Rimando was called up for international duty several times. This meant Fernandez was given RSL duty as his first priority, even though he was still just a backup. Second, RSL’s backup goalkeeper, Matt VanOekel, suffered a series of injuries that meant he wasn’t available on the bench — leaving Fernandez again as the backup.
It certainly could have gone badly for Sparrow. He hadn’t played much professional soccer. The club had started working on giving him minutes, but he was then thrown into the deep end. Not the ocean, of course, but it was a sink-or-swim opportunity.
And you know what? It worked, and it worked well. Connor Sparrow adapted to the USL level quickly, and he looked like a good shot stopper. And then another thing happened: He saved four penalty kicks. Nick Rimando-level stuff.
All told, Sparrow played 20 matches for Real Monarchs. His performances — up until September, at least — gave him a truly big opportunity: In his second year as a professional, he moved to the first team. Lalo Fernandez moved to Tigres on a transfer — a big opportunity for him — and that opened a roster position.
It took a confluence of injuries and absences, but in the end, Connor Sparrow was given an opportunity to impress, and he took that with both hands. You know, like a great goalkeeper should.
What’s next for Sparrow? That’s a difficult question to just answer outright, but if he continues to do what he’s done in his career so far, he’ll be an important figure at Real Salt Lake. The big question, though: Will he be Nick Rimando’s backup, or will he be playing a third-string role and playing primarily for Real Monarchs?