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The Allure of a Consistent Starting 11

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Is a regular starting 11 necessary for payoff level success?

J Engels Photography

With their 2-0 victory over the Lights in Las Vegas last Saturday, the Monarchs moved their season record to a league leading 8-1-1. This match was also the 10th different starting lineup fielded by the Monarchs who are yet to use the same starting lineup twice. Can their success continue without the establishment of a consistent starting 11?

Commentators frequently cover changes in their teams’ lineup as a part of the pre-game briefing as a point of interest and a possible indicator of performance, both positive and negative. At the start of each season fans and coaches alike tend to offer up the lack of a consistent squad and the need for the new squad to “get acquainted with each other” as excuse for poor performance. Injuries, and the resulting dive into the backups on the roster, are another frequent reason supplied for poor performance.

During their first ten matches the Monarchs have used a total of 30 different players on the field. Quite a trick for a squad which only has 18 players signed to USL contracts. In fact, three of those 18 players with USL contracts; David Diosa, who has been out with a lasting injury, Konrad Plewa and Rhys Williams have yet to see the field. In other words, half of the players who have seen the field for the Monarchs were on loan from Real Salt Lake in MLS or called up from the RSL academy

Corey Baird, Adam Henley, Pablo Ruiz, Ricky Lopez-Esplin and Aaron Herrera all got their first starts in the RSL family this year with the Monarchs before going on to feature with RSL. Nick Besler, who has several MLS starts, and Connor Sparrow, who looks set to get time with the first team, signed with RSL from the Monarchs in the off-season. Luke Mullholland, Marcelo Silva, David Horst and Taylor Peay all had starts with the Monarchs when coming back from injury.

Even with this ferris wheel of players the Monarchs have still managed to have players named to the USL Team of the Week in 7 of the 10 weeks of competition. In week one the Monarchs did not have a scheduled match. Week 6 was their sole loss at Tampa Bay and Week 7 was the tie with Las Vegas at home.

Week 01: --

Week 02: Maikel Chang

Week 03: Kalen Ryden

Week 04: Connor Sparrow

Week 05: Masta Kacher

Week 06: --

Week 07: --

Week 08: Maikel Chang

Week 09: Kalen Ryden

Week 10: Josh Heard

It is also interesting to note that with the exception of Connor Sparrow, who was signed by RSL, all of the honored players are new signings for the 2018 season and not players from the 2017 Monarchs. Monarchs management got it right when looking at what they would need going forward and signed players to fill those needs.

Glance through the 10 starting lineups and see whose names are consistent.

Game 01: Horwath, Henley, Acosta, Besler, Gallagher, Ruiz, Chang, Portillo, Velasquez, Baird, Hoffman

Game 02: Putna, Brody, Ryden, Besler, Gallagher, Ruiz, Chang, Portillo, Velasquez, Kacher, Hoffman

Game 03: Sparrow, Herrera, Acosta, Besler, Gallagher, Adams, Chang, Portillo, Velasquez, Heard, Hoffman

Game 04: Putna, Brody, Ryden, Moberg, Gallagher, Adams, Heard, Portillo, Hernández, Kacher, Lopez-Espin

Game 05: Ochoa, Brody, Ryden, Moberg, Gallagher, Adams, Chang, Portillo, Velasquez, Heard, Hoffman

Game 06: Sparrow, Henley, Ryden, Moberg, Gallagher, Mulholland, Chang, Portillo, Velasquez, Kacher, Hoffman

Game 07: Sparrow, Brody, Ryden, M. Silva, Peay, Adams, Chang, Portillo, Velasquez, Kacher, Hoffman

Game 08: Sparrow, Herrera, Acosta, Gallagher, Ryden, Hanlin, Heard, Portillo, Velasquez, Ledezma, Mare

Game 09: Leeker, Herrera, Acosta, Gallagher, Ryden, Adams, Chang, Hernández, Velasquez, Heard, Mare

Game 10: Leeker, Brody, Ryden, Horst, Peay, Adams, Chang, Portillo, Velasquez, Heard, Lopez-Espin

Five different goalkeepers, seven different center back pairings, six different sets of attacking midfielders, and 3 different players up top on attack. Only three players, Justin Portillo, Sebastian Velasquez, and Kalen Ryden have appeared in all 10 matches and none have started in all 10.

However, stop to consider the roles they play on the team. Sebastian Velasquez is the playmaker at number 10 through whom the offense is run. Justin Portillo is the ball handler and pivot at defensive midfielder and takes most of the corner kicks. Kalen Ryden is the leading scorer for the Monarchs and a big tall presence on set pieces and corner kicks.

Maikel Chang, who is the assist leader along with Justin Portillo, Chandler Hoffman, Charlie Adams and Michael Gallagher each have 8 appearances. Among these seven players you have the core spine of the team. All seven have for the greater part avoided injury and provided the leadership which allowed the other 23 players who have made the pitch to prosper.

With the necessity of providing places for RSL players on loan and the desire to blood the young academy players in the ranks of professional soccer, the Monarchs might easily go the remaining 24 matches without repeating the starting 11. However, if these core seven can remain on the field and effective, the Monarchs can look forward to another great season and a deep run in the 2018 playoffs.

What are your thoughts? Is a core spine of 6-7 players enough or do the Monarchs need to consider a first choice starting 11? With the demands from the other part of the organization can they even consider a consistent starting 11?