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Monarchs open 2018 USL season on the road in Tulsa

The Roughnecks took 4 points from the two matches last season against the Monarchs

JEngels Photography

ONEOK Field has not been a happy stop for the Monarchs during the three years that both teams have been part of the USL Western Conference. The Monarchs’ first visit to another of the many active minor league baseball stadiums doubling as soccer venues in the USL ended in a 5-1 defeat that was the among the worst in that inaugural season. Another early season meeting in 2016 saw a struggling Monarchs side steal a 1-0 victory with only two shots on goal after Tulsa went down to 10 men early in the second half. Last season it was Tulsa under their new head coach Dave Vaudreuil who ended the Monarchs 10 game unbeaten string a week after after the tie in Phoenix ended their record 9 game victory streak.

Playing on an expansive home field like Rio Tinto, the Monarchs have traditionally struggled on narrow pitches that tend to favor different tactics. The USL’s move to Division 2 standards has forced changes to many fields including ONEOK Field which was upgraded over the winter with a retractable mound which allows the field to expand to 70 yards wide by 110 yards long. Tomorrow’s match is Tulsa’s home opener and a chance for the Monarchs to star a new chapter in and take revenge for the streak ending defeat.

Although this will be the Monarchs first league match of the 2018 season, Tulsa already has a loss against rival OKC Energy in a match that could have ended much worse without five saves by Fabian Cerda, who is one of only four players returning from last year’s squad. The Tulsa 4-2-3-1 displayed a distinct lack of cohesion in the midfield and attack where Joaquin Rivas is the only attacking player still with the team from last year. A third player from last year, central defender and captain Francisco Ugarte compounded the problems by earning a silly second yellow late in the match forcing him out of this week’s home opener.

Former Monarchs Riggs Lennon and Eti Tavares are among the handful of USL veterans joining the Roughnecks this season. Both were in the gameday 18 last week and Tavares came on in an attempt to add fresh legs for the final 9 minutes of the match. Michael Binns and Ivan Mirkcovic, paired deep in midfield, saw the most possession and struggled to effectively connect with the front four who had a collective 4 shots on goal.

On the other hand, the Monarchs are returning a core of 9 players with regular starts from last season. Chandler Hoffman and Sebastian Valesquez return from USL Best 11 seasons in 2017 and are joined by Juan Mare along with newcomers Maikel Chang, Josh Heard and Masta Kacher.

Charlie Adams, Karsten Hanlin and newcomer justin Portillo will anchor the midfield and play in front a couple of returning central defenders in Justin Moberg and James Gallagher and newcomer Konrad Plewa, Andrew Brody is being transitioned to half back and will see time there along with newcomers Kylan Ryden and Rhys Williams.

Finally, Andrew Putna returns in goal along with new signing Jake Leeker. Connor Sparrow, who signed by RSL last season will also likely see a number of starts in an attempt to keep his skills sharp and provide further experience.

In addition to Connor, expect to see 2 to 3 RSL players make appearances in each game and occssional appearances by Academy players as summer approaches and the current USSDA cycle winds down for the year. Nick Besler, Ricky Lopez-Esplin and Jose Henandez featured frequently with the Monarchs throughout preseason. As the currently injured players come back to fitness many will see a start with the Monarchs to build up game stamina.

With RSL having the week off and many of the depth players needing some game time, don’t be surprised to see a large sprinkling of those players in the 18 for this game in Tulsa.

Kickoff is at 6:00 PM (30 minutes after the Royals kickoff in Orlando) and the match will be streamed on realmonarchs.com and uslsoccer.com.