The Real Monarchs began professional play in March 2015 and have progressed through two seasons. With USL gaining status as the D2 league in the US, you might be left wondering why Utah needs multiple professional sports teams operating beneath the same ownership banner and playing the same sport. Why, then, are the Real Monarchs necessary? Why does RSL need the Monarchs?
First, let’s clear up a couple of quick items. Google can be your friend, but I’ll be your acquaintance for a quick paragraph here. USL stands for United Soccer League and was, until recently, the third tier of soccer in the US after, also recently, being knocked off the second tier by the NASL. This has changed for 2017 and the USL now shares a provisional second tier status with the NASL. Want to know more? Brian Straus can fill you in over at Sports Illustrated. Basically, the US Soccer Federation told the leagues that they must meet certain criteria to be designated at particular tiers. It’s USSF’s way of attempting to stabilize the historically rocky path that is soccer in the US. Why does this matter when the US doesn’t have promotion/relegation? I don’t know; this isn’t a pro/rel article and I’m not about to dip my toe into that quagmire. I’m sure it has to do with money. It always does.
Why Real Monarchs? The kneejerk response is development. The cynical response is MLS requires it. But it’s a lot more than this. It’s as much about the prestige of soccer itself as it is about RSL and the organization.
Fewer kids are playing American football. US News, ESPN, and NPR will tell you all about it. Football may still be the most popular US sport, but youth play is declining. We’ve all heard the tired question, “What if our best athletes played soccer?” It’s possible this might soon be the case. It’s probable that soccer will see a surge in athletes. Soccer’s growth is demonstrable. Not every quality future soccer player will be able to play for a tier one team, but that doesn’t mean they cannot make useful contributions to the game. The game needs to both develop and be developed. Real Monarchs contribute to this. Sport is competition and the Monarchs provide an additional rung of competition so that the game itself can find greater development. We can oversimplify to supply and demand. With more demand for players, the supply will increase as will the necessity for higher quality end products.
This creates a greater need for player development. We’ve all heard about RSL’s stellar academy, watched our academy players get scooped into top world leagues. Real Monarchs are that next developmental step, where young players can play professionally, present their quality, compete for positions at higher levels.
Coach development is as important as player development. If Bob Bradley’s drama with Swansea this past autumn is an indicator, US Soccer needs to heft a mighty chip onto its shoulder about coaching. Regardless of how you feel about Bradley’s eleven games in the Premier League—a league some might argue as the world’s best—I think it’s clear that the US has something to prove in the coaching department. More professional coaching opportunities mean more developmental chances. The Monarchs have already provided Freddy Juarez a developmental platform as a coach. He earned a promotion to RSL’s first team. Now the Monarchs have Mike Petke as their head coach; if this doesn’t excite you, you’re probably asleep.
Real Monarchs offers second chances. Chris Schuler is a prime example of this as he required prolonged convalescence. Sebastián Velásquez might be another to grasp a second chance. When players have the opportunity to work back from massive injuries or career dips, to continue to demonstrate their love of the organization, to have professional competition that brings them back to fitness, RSL benefits. Many of us (me included) thought Schuler’s career was over after his last major injury. Without Real Monarchs, that may have been the case. Many of us (me included) are now looking to him to be solid on the back line once again. Real Monarchs made that possible.
Nick Rimando. If he’s not off on national team duty or injured, when do our goalkeepers develop? Lalo Fernández, RSL’s 2016 third keeper, played every minute for the Monarchs last year. He never saw the field for RSL, but with Jeff Attinella’s selection in the expansion draft and subsequent bounce to Portland, the opportunity for Fernández to fight for that second goalkeeper position behind Rimando is now wide open. He played the minutes last season to back it up.
RSL needs Real Monarchs. It’s more than simply a development angle, it’s the demand that creates supply, a place for players to compete. It’s the little brother you want to succeed because his success drives your success. It’s family.