After playing four of their first five matches on the road in Tulsa, Scottsdale, Tacoma and St. Petersburg, the Monarchs will finally have an opportunity to spend an extended period at home in their own beds during the first part of May. However, with several games in hand over all of the other Western Conference playoff teams, the next two weeks will be busy with four games in the next 13 days.
These matches start tonight with Las Vegas Lights FC, a new 2018 expansion team, the Monarchs opponents in the opening soccer match at Zion Banks Stadium. They will be followed by three other sides currently in playoff positions; conference leading Orange County SC on Friday, Swope Park Rangers on the following Wednesday, and finally another newcomer in Fresno FC the following Saturday.
During this two week home stand, we should finally begin to get a good look at the 2018 version of the Monarchs as they quickly complete the first quarter of their 34 match season. 4 points behind Orange County Sc and 3 behind Sacramento Republic FC in the current standings it will be important for the squad to take advantage of those games in hand and keep pace with the conference leaders.
The quick pace of four games in 13 days will also stretch the 18 players on the core USL roster for 2018. RSL continues to experience a glut of injuries and been forced to dive deeply in the MLS roster to fill out the squad for MLS matches. Conner Sparrow, Adam Henley, Nick Besler, Danilo Acosta, Aaron Herrera, Corey Baird, Jose Hernandez, Pablo Ruiz and Ricky Lopez-Esplin have all made appearances with the Monarchs during 2018 before moving on to be at least included in the game day 18 for RSL.
During this period look for Luke Mulholland, Taylor Peay, and Aaron Herrera to get some game time with the Monarchs as the return from injuries. Sebastian Saucedo and Jose Hernandez could also feature for the Monarachs to keep the skills sharp against possible need by RSL.
Also look for roster support to come from the Academy as both David Ochoa and Richard Ledezma have already made appearances for the Monarchs. Sebastian Soto, Alexis Canales, and Lyes Mezine have also trained with the Monarchs and been added to the USL roster.
But, in the best emulation of soccer players and coaches everywhere, let’s take the matches one at a time. Las Vegas Lights, the opponent for tonight, has been the seen of much discussion this season already as the team attempts to live up to the never ending spectacle of the home.
From the smiley face on the internal layer of their jerseys, the llamas serving as mascots, and their signing of a marijuana dispensary as a sponsor, the Lights have served to entertain and found success at the turnstiles. Averaging over 8,000 fans at each home match, they trail only Sacramento Republic in the Western Conference and stand at 5th overall.
While the thematically important jumpsuit will not be present, Las Vegas have found their own faded soccer icon in Freddy Adu who will be return to Salt Lake for the first time since 2007. Jose Luis Sanches Sola, more commonly know as Chelis, began the season as head coach and generated his own share of publicity and controversy before moving up to technical director and leaving the head coach duties to his son Isidro Sánchez Macip.
With a record of 1-1-2 in their four home matches this season the Lights suffered their first defeat last Friday against San Antonio FC. With only three days between matches, they will also be stretched to find fresh legs for tonight’s match. Ricardo Ferrino, their starting keeper, even flew to Mexico over the weekend and was married before joining up with the team tonight.
Carlos Alvarez, Matt Thomas and Isaac Diaz are currently the main offensive threats but have struggled to keep their shots on target in recent matches. The Lights will likely attempt to maximize their possession and be content to slow down the game and weather the opening barrage that the Monarchs have demonstrated so aptly this season.
Look for the Monarchs to press high and press the action in an attempt to set the tone of the match and get their fans into the match early. If they can find early success and make possession difficult for the Lights they will have an excellent chance to make their first match at Zions Bank Stadium memorable.