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Match Preview: Real Monarchs SLC vs. OKC Energy FC

Monarchs face prototypical “trap match” on the road at Taft Stadium

USL.com

Coming off two straight home victories over playoff contenders in the Western Conference the Monarchs travel this Saturday to take on OKC Energy FC at Taft Stadium. This older field, originally constructed as a WPA project in 1934 and extensively renovated from 2013-2015, remains one of the few home grounds in which the Monarchs have yet to score a single point.

The Monarchs first visit on August 15th in 2015 ended in a 1-0 defeat with USL veteran Kyle Greig scoring the only goal for the Energy in the 74th minute. The 2016 visit on May 24th ended in a 3-1 loss after Devon Sandoval gave the Monarchs a early lead. Kalen Ryden, current Monarch starter, played a full 90 minutes against the Monarchs during his year long stay in Oklahoma City. And finally, the 2017 visit on August 5th ended in a 2-0 loss as Alexander Dixon scored both goals in one of only 3 shutout losses last season.

Although OKC have fallen on hard times this season with a 12-7-5 overall record through 24 matches any trip to Oklahoma City should be treated with a great deal of respect by the Monarchs. A -9 goal differential should indicate an opportunity for the Monarchs to get their offensive output back into high gear despite their previous performances and being outscored 6-1 in the three previous meetings at Taft Stadium.

Alexander Dixon, who scored both the winning goals in 2017, leads the Energy offence along with Christian Volesky with 6 goals apiece. Both typically play on the wings in the 4-2-3-1 offensive scheme preferred by new head coach Steve Cooke who joined OKC after serving as the interim manager for the Colorado Rapids during the end of the 2017 season. Jaime Siaj, with 4 goals, and Adam Jahn split time as the top striker while Jose Barril is in his second season as the team’s number 10

Atiba Harris, a former RSL player, signed with the Energy late in June and has become a fixture at center back going a full ninety minutes for all six matches since. His current partner, Canadian Drew Beckie also joined the team late after recovering from a serious virus. Christian Ibeagha and Kyle Hyland round out what has become a very stable back four configuration.

Matt Van Oekel, who signed after leaving RSL last season, was the starting goalkeeper early in the season, but suffered a season ending leg injury early in July. However, with the return of fan favorite Cody Laurendi from a knee injury he suffered late in the 2017 season the Energy are once again well represented in goal.

The Energy’s sole win in the past 5 matches was last weeks 3-0 romp over in-state rival Tulsa Roughnecks who sit dead last in the Western Conference, on Wednesday evening. However, OKC has shown the ability to score a lot of goals at points this season and Saturday’s match could easily be a trap for the Monarchs if the fail to show up mentally. Both team will be coming into the match on short rest and may need to rotate to find fresh legs.

While the Monarchs victory over Reno 1868 on Wednesday was a close affair that required some assistance from the goalposts, the offense also showed nicely in the combinations which lead to the goals by Charlie Adams and Maikel Chang. Chandler Hoffman, Josh Head and even Adam Henley all looked sharp are connected in the offensive third. While the Monarchs failed to seize the match with Reno by the throat, they did manage to keep a hard pressing and speedy team from creating enough momentum to carry them through to victory.

The injury to Taylor Peay, down on loan from RSL, will hurt the Monarchs in speed and height along the backline, but three of the seven Monarchs name to the 18 man squad on Wednesday have featured primarily as center backs this season. It will also be interesting to see if Sebastian Velasquez and Masta Kacher, who were both not on the Wednesday 18 man squad are able to return for Saturday.

Here are several things to look for as the match proceeds:

  1. For the past several matches at home the Monarchs have worked hard to move their defense forward as quickly as possible to compress the midfield. While the Energy do not have a Chris Cortez or Brian Brown on the roster, this approach could pay early dividends against a OKC team that has a tendency to be sloppy with the ball.
  2. With RSL playing at home on Saturday and then two matches next week, the cupboard may be quite bare for the Monarchs. Can some of the Monarchs depth step up and prove their worth and win a contract for next season?
  3. After two very emotional home wins against playoff contenders can the Monarchs bring their A game and start fast on the road in a stadium that has never been kind to them? Unlike their past two opponents, OKC is a team that will fold if they fall into a early hole even on the home field.

By all means get out to see the Royals and RSL at the RIOT, but also join us for Monarchs action on ESPN+ either live or delay.