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What Real Monarchs’ Diego Calvo signing means

One of the latest two signings could spell continued evolution for RSL’s second-tier side.

Costa Rica v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

If you told me in 2015, when Real Monarchs launched, that it could be a landing pad for a 26-year-old national team player from one of the top federations in CONCACAF, I don’t know that I would have believed you.

After all, it was 2015. Real Monarchs were bad, but we were actively looking at players that simply weren’t of that caliber or pedigree. Instead, we looked at players just out of college or graduates of the RSL academy.

The highlights were likely Maikon Orellana (who is now exploring a music career) and Emery Welshman (now at Puerto Rico FC after signing at Real Salt Lake). Only one player remains at Monarchs from that period: Emilio Orozco, a center back with first-team experience at dearly departed Chivas USA.

Now, we’ve been signing MLS castoffs and younger professionals, sometimes out of college and sometimes out of international teams — but usually they’ve been younger players.

Calvo is a rare signing here, because he’s not an MLS castoff, but at 26, he’s alongside the oldest players on the team, Sebastian Velasquez and Chandler Hoffman.

With that context out of the way, we can start to see that this looks like a new type of signing for Real Monarchs. Five years ago, it’s the sort of signing we might have seen for Real Salt Lake, and while there would have been unknowns, it might have been a great move.

It’s a real statement about the state of MLS that a player like Calvo would join a second-tier side. He has CONCACAF Champions League experience, mostly with Costa Rican side LD Alajuelense, though he did make the bench for Saprissa in 2016. He played in Norway, Sweden and Costa Rica, and he featured heavily in the FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Frankly, Real Monarchs look like they’re punching above their weight here, but that might actually be short-sighted. If an MLS second-tier side is designed to give the team a chance to sign players that could make their first team, then this is Real Monarchs serving its purpose, and I’d argue its purpose has evolved over the last two years.

Real Monarchs now are less about bringing in players for whom the natural development process is academy-college-professional, for better or worse. Of course, some players will still fit that mold, and rightly so. We should be giving some of the best players out of college an opportunity. But at the same time, the current crop of post-college players and post-academy players have ended up at Real Salt Lake, where they’ve been influential and part of a new wave.

In the next few years, we’ll have an opportunity to see a new group of college and academy products, and it’ll be very interesting to see whether they head right to the first team.

The Calvo signing, then, signals the continued evolution of what Real Monarchs is and will be. We don’t know the outcome yet, and maybe Calvo will last six months before moving on, or maybe he will end up at Real Salt Lake in January. There are more unknowns than there are knowns.

One thing, right now, is certain: Diego Calvo is part of a continued strategy to sign players and mitigate the risk of bringing them into the broader RSL operation.