Real Monarchs SLC make a quick trip to San Antonio this Saturday before returning back to Zions Bank Stadium for two key home games against teams nipping at their heels in Phoenix Rising FC and Reno 1868 FC. After an very successful debut year in 2017 where they dueled with the Monarchs for first place in the Western Conference for much of the season, San Antonio has struggled to find success in 2018. Having played on 17 matches so far in 2018, San Antonio finds itself in 11th place with 22 points and a 5-5-7 record.
Perhaps the most telling statistic at this point in the season for San Antonio is the -4 goal differential. The 2017 team prided themselves on defense and that focus has carried over to 2018. Through their 17 matches San Antonio has allowed 20 goals or about 1.2 per game. This is only 4 more than the Monarchs, but when combined with only 4 clean sheets, production of less that a goal per game (16 goals in 17 matches) and a conversion rate of only 9.6% you begin to see their struggle.
However, 10 of their 17 matches so far this season have been against teams currently in playoff positions and all five of their loses came in those matches. San Antonio have already completed their season series against Reno 1868 FC (0-2-0), Orange County SC (0-2-0) and Sacramento (1-1-0). As such it is important for the Monarchs to go into Toyota Field and at least come away with a point.
19-year-old rookie Alex Bruce, who signed straight from the Texas SC Academy in USSDA, has found his way into the starting lineup and is currently tied for the team lead with 3 goals along with Jamaican Owayne Omar Gordon. Mikey Lopez, coming off several years with NYCFC in MLS and Ryan Roushandel add some stability at defensive midfield behind an ever changing cast of four attacking players.
Diego Restrepo, who had 12 shutouts and was named USL Goalkeeper of the Year in 2017, is back in 2018. However, the back four in front of him is missing Sebastien Ibeagha, who signed an MLS contract with NYCFC, and Stephen McCarthy who has yet to see anytime on the field. Greg Cochrane is the sole player from last year’s back four and continues to excel on the wing.
Nearly two months after the suspension of Mark Briggs and the elevation of Jamison Olave to main coaching duties, the Monarchs come into San Antonio hoping that their recent victory over Seattle Sounders 2 indicates a return to the form of earlier in the season. The return of Sebastian Valesquez was highlighted by an increase in defensive pressure and the 6th clean sheet for Jake Leeker who has emerged as the first choice goalkeeper with the shift of Connor Sparrow and Andrew Putna up to the parent club.
Maikel Chang has quietly moved up to 5th in the league in chances created with 42 and tied for 4th in assists with 6. Steady pivot man Justin Portillo also rates among league leaders with 36 chances created and 1,119 passes attempted. Perhaps more notable is that no Monarch has accumulated more than 3 yellow cards in the first 19 matches of the season ensuring that games have not been missed due to discipline.
Here are a couple of things to watch for as the game at Toyota Field gets underway.
- San Antonio has a four game winless streak going into this match and has not held a lead in a match for over a month. Can the Monarchs prevent an early goal by San Antonio while still applying some pressure of their own?
- Chandler Hoffman is still struggling to find his form and get some constant distribution in front of the box. Can the Monarchs midfield take advantage of the shaky central defense of San Antonio and get the ball to Chandler in good scoring positions?
- Jack Blake has had a couple of substitute outings for the Monarchs since coming over from Tampa Bay on loan. Can Blake find a way to break into the starting lineup and reproduce his production from 2017 with the Jacksonville Armada?
Grab plenty of your favorite beverage and join us at 6:30 PM Saturday before RSL kicks off against Colorado or later on replay at ESPN+.