After the first four matches of the young 2018 season the Monarchs currently sit alone in third place in the Western Conference with a perfect 4-0-0 record and two games in hand over the two teams above them. Only one other USL team, Louisville City FC in the Eastern Conference, remains prefect, but Louisville has 3 home victories in four matches while the Monarchs have three road victories in the four matches.
Most USL sides looking at a stretch of 4 road games in 5 matches would be happy to settle for 9 of the 15 available points. Going into Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, the Monarchs already have 12 regardless of the outcome on Saturday. More on that match in the preview yet to come, but for the moment let’s look at what lead to the Monarchs early success.
In three of their four matches, the Monarchs have scored before the 10th minute. In Tulsa, Corey Baird scored in the 7th minute for an early 1-0 lead. At home against Timbers 2, Nick Besler in the 3rd minute and Kalen Ryden in the 7th minute headed the Monarchs to an early 2-0 lead. Last week in Tacoma, Masta Kacher struck in the 4th minute to lift the Monarchs to an early 1-0 lead over Sounders 2.
Only in Scottsdale, against arguably the best team they have faced in Phoenix Rising, did the Monarchs fail to find the net early. It took until the 56th minute for Sebastian Velasquez to find the match’s sole goal and give the visitors another victory.
Perhaps equally important is the fact that each of those five goals was scored by a different individual. In fact, the Monarchs 11 goals so far in the 2018 season have been scored by seven different players. Chandler Hoffman, Kalen Ryden, Masta Kacher, and Sebastian Velazquez have two each, with Charlie Adams, Corey Baird, and Nick Besler each adding a single goal.
As should be expected for a team owned by an MLS side, the Monarchs have been and will continue to be called upon to give frequent playing time and fitness tests to players from RSL and the RSL Academy. The Monarchs have only two players who have started all four matches this season. Justin Portillo, who has also played the entire 360 minutes, and Michael Gallagher, who has played 354 of the 360 minutes. Another four have appeared in all four matches and in total, 22 players have at least 60 minutes on the field in those four matches.
Louisville City FC, the other perfect side, is an independent team with MLS owners and has started a core group of 6 players and played them the entire 360 minutes in their first four matches. Another 4 have made appearances in all four matches. Only a total of 14 players have made appearances for at least 60 minutes in Louisville’s four matches.
While Louisville is limited to its pool of signed players and does not have access to MLS talent to the extent that the Monarchs do, they are also able to feature a consistent lineup and give their team greater on-field time to mesh together. For example, the Monarchs have seen 3 different goalkeepers in four matches, Connor Sparrow and Alex Horwath on loan from RSL and Andrew Putna. Louisville has had single consistent goalkeeper in Gregory Ranjitsingh. All are talented players, but likely approach the game from a different viewpoint and style.
The Monarchs had a bye in the first week of this season, but they have had a player in the USL Team of the Week each week since then.
Week Two: Maikel Chang, a new signing from Charleston Battery, for his two assists against Tulsa.
Week Three: Kalen Ryden, a new signing from Jacksonville Armada, for his two goals against Portland.
Week Four: Connor Sparrow, on loan from RSL, for his five saves and a shutout against Phoenix Rising. Sebastian Velasquez also made the bench this week.
Week Five: Masta Kacher, a new signing from Colorado Springs Switchbacks, for his two goals against Seattle. Justin Portillo, a new signing from Charleston Battery, also made the bench.
The Monarchs have ridden a different horse to victory in each of their matches and integrated their new signings quickly into their system and a fluid squad.
Tune in tomorrow to see who will step up against the Tampa Bay Rowdies as the Monarchs’ attempt to push the string to five straight with four on the road.