It took six years, but in 2017, Lalo Fernandez earned first-team minutes for his first time. That came after two years of regular play for Real Monarchs — and not long after those first minutes, he ended up leaving the club on a transfer to Mexican powerhouse Tigres.
Those minutes came in the US Open Cup, and they didn’t exactly come in the best of circumstances. The club gave a handful of their Real Monarchs players starts, and that was particularly important given the injuries that had been plaguing the first team at the time. The entirety of the lineup looked a bit like a USL roster. It wasn’t great.
But what we saw from Fernandez then shouldn’t be what we remember him by. Instead, what we had from 2012 to 2017 was a player who was enthusiastic and dedicated. Few players remain at a club, but as a young goalkeeper, Fernandez seemed to know that his time was not now. It’s a lesson we can take from former RSL third-string goalkeeper Tim Melia, who this year was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.
In a way, Melia’s story is one that Fernandez can hold to. It took until he was 29 to earn more than two appearances in a season, but since then, he’s been consistently one of the best goalkeepers in MLS.
Fernandez went to Tigres at a time when they needed a backup. There’s no doubting that his earning potential is much higher there, but it likely means he’ll have a harder time finding minutes. And maybe that’s fine for now. He is, after all, only 24 — his best years are absolutely ahead of him. He got an education here, we can be hopeful that will pay dividends somewhere down the line, somehow. He may not ever end up in Salt Lake again, but maybe — just maybe — his time here isn’t done quite yet.