Although best remembered by RSL for the USL Open Cup loss there last year, Papa Murphy’s Park on the grounds of the California State Park has been kind to Real Monarchs SLC over their years in USL. With overall 2-1-2 record in the stadium and wins in each of the last two visits, the Monarchs can carry some confidence into tonight’s match with the Republic. The Monarchs took the full 6 points from the series in 2017 and with a win tonight can repeat that sweep in 2018.
Coming into this match the Republic are on a bit of a dip in form with draws against Phoenix Rising FC and Saint Louis FC in the last two home matches and a 1-2-2 record over their past five matches. However, they remain firmly in the playoff race with 29 points out of the 18 matches and at 6th place in the Western Conference.
New Zealander Simon Elliott who replaced Sacramento’s long term coach Paul Buckle this season has brought his own style to the team and has instituted a 4-2-3-1 formation that shifts at times into more of a 4-1-4-1. This allows him to play many of the experienced attackers on his roster and use them cover a midfield that is light in talent and experience.
Despite the experience up top, the Republic attack has had trouble keeping the 250 shots that they have recorded on target and have only a 11.1% conversion rate and 21 goals. Cameron Iwasa, a Sacramento native who spent last season with Swope Park Rangers, has appeared in all 18 matches and leads the Republic with 7 goals playing as a solo striker on the point. Christian Eissele, Luis Espino Vasquez and Villyan Bijev each have added 2 goals.
Adam Moffat, whose own goal was the only score in the earlier match this season at Zions Bank Stadium, plays just in front of the defensive midfield duo of Jaime Vilarreal and Jeremy Hall. All three have appeared in all eighteen matches and provide the needed stability behind a very fluid cast of attacking players.
Josh Cohen, the only keeper used the season, has recorded five clean sheets, but also fumbled a number of balls and has a relatively low 75.3% save success rate. He hasnot been helped by having a somewhat fluid backline with only Shannon Gomez at right fullback as a consistent starter. Former RSL man, Justin Schmidt, Cole Seiler and Mitchell Taintor are among the most regular in the other positions.
The Monarchs have been struggling for consistency through the midfield since they lost Sebastian Velasquez to first an injury and then a suspension for a couple of games. With only 7 goals in the past five games, they have been reliant upon their defense to keep them in matches and hold onto a clean sheet for victory in 3 of the five matches. Conversely their two losses have both seen their opponents put 3 goals into the net and leave the Monarchs on their back feet.
With the injury to Connor Sparrow and the emergency call up for Andrew Putna, who has just returned from an injury of his own, look to see an Academy player join the 18 as a backup goalkeeper. The Monarchs will also be coming in on short rest while Sacramento is at home and have had a full week to prepare. Look for other rotation in the lineup to get fresh legs in position to help the Monarchs.
Three things to watch as this match proceeds.
- The real strength of the defense for Sacramento ins in their defensive midfield pairing of Villarreal and Hall. This will put a lot of pressure on the midfield and the Monarchs will need a standout performance there instead of the 15 passes they got from Jose Hernandez at Reno.
- As a corollary to number one, the wingers and fullbacks of the Monarchs will need to make a major contribution to the offensive side of the ball and help win the midfield. Hoffman and Mare thrive on balls into them which haven’t been coming in large number during recent games.
- Finally the Monarchs will need to get back to being deadly on set pieces. After finding a great deal of success from corners and set pieces early in the season, recent efforts have largely been simply not dangerous enough.
The action tonight begins at 9:00 PM on ESPN+.