As two of the main objectives for the Monarchs are development of young players and providing a fitness check for RSL players returning from injury, the roster tends to be much more fluid than that of an established professional team. Game day lineups frequently change in at least 4-5 positions from match to match and a very large percentage of the players on the roster will see playing time over the season.
Rather than attempting to provide grades for the Real Monarchs SLC on a per match basis, I have elected to break the 2019 season into 8 parts and provide grades and comments at the end of each part. The Monarchs will play 34 matches during the 2019 USL Championship regular season. As 34 cannot be equally divided in 8 parts, I have chosen to make the first report cover initial six matches and each of the remaining seven parts will cover 4 matches apiece.
18-year-old David Ochoa, who was signed by RSL directly from the academy in November of 2018, has been in the nets for all of the first six matches going the entire 540 minutes. With 25 saves and 2 clean sheets, he is among the leaders in both areas and has received two nominations for Save of the Week and won the fan voting in Week 2.
David, who seems almost certain to be named to the US squad for the FIFA U-20 Championship in Poland next month, is quickly becoming an tangible asset for RSL and a good showing there seems likely to create even more interest in him. Evan Finney and Todd Morton, the two goalkeepers on the Monarchs USL roster, have yet to see regular season action, but will surely be tested during David’s absence if not before.
Andrew Brody is the only backline player to play a full ninety minutes in all six matches, although Kalen Ryden, who missed one match due to a red card, and Noah Powder have appeared in five of the six matches. James Moberg and Stanley Okumo are semi-regular with four appearances each, while Konrad Plewa and Steve Jasso have only a single appearance of under 10 minutes.
Good appearances from Donny Toia, Justen Glad and Erik Holt, while on assignment from RSL, have led to them all seeing time with the parent club in MLS. Conversely, Adam Henley failed to see any playing time while on assignment to the Monarchs.
With two clean sheets and only three goals conceded, until the five goal blowout in their last match against a powerful New Mexico United offense, the defensive line has performed very well, but on-going issues have also emerged. They continue to have difficulty with set pieces and against size and height in the box. The injury to Okumo and lack of playing time for Jasso, who has found time with the U-19 squad, has also limited the development of the younger players.
If one adds the wingers to the attack, as I have chosen to do so, the midfield is perhaps the thinnest part of the Monarchs’ USL roster with only five members. It has also been greatly impacted by injury early in this season. Four of the five midfield players on the USL roster; Ricardo Avila, Jordan Pena, Luis Palma and Sam Brown have missed matches due to injury. Only captain Jack Blake has appeared in all six matches and gone for the full 540 minutes. Avila, the next in playing time, has only 225 minutes in his three appearances.
Once again, two good appearances by Tate Schmitt and one by Justin Portillo on assignment from RSL have helped solidify the midfield, but the two appearances by Paulo Ruiz have been much less impressive and left him without time in MLS.
While a great deal of effort has been on consistent display, the midfield has failed to control the pace of matches and proven unable to effectively hold possession in the midfield. With the loss of the spine from the 2018 team, midfield was always going to be a large question mark in 2019 and, so far, the answer is inconclusive at best.
With the wingers added the Monarchs’ have six attacking players on their roster. Maikel Chang has continued his great play from last season and leads this group with 532 minutes in his six appearances. Douglas Martinez, until his last minute scratch in Albuquerque last week, has also done yeoman work at the top of the attack. Josh Heard, although slowed by an early injury, and Masta Kacher, as a first choice sub off the bench. have also added pace and punch to the attack. Lionel Abate Etoundi, Kyle Coffee and Damian German have basically been limited to a couple of appearances and failed to make much of an impact in the first six matches.
As a group, however, they have scored only 4 of the Monarchs’ 10 goals across the first six matches with a fifth coming from Joao Plata while on assignment from RSL. Scoring less than two goals a match leaves you open to a lot of ties and losses, especially on the road.
With a record of 2-2-2 across the first six matches the Monarchs’ in a virtual tie for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The schedule has thus far has been evenly split between home matches (2-0-1) and away matches (0-2-1). Four of the six matches (2-1-1) have been against teams above them in the standings and they are still within a single win of 3rd place.
Even with the expansion to 18 teams this season, it is very likely that a team who takes care of business at home will be in contention for a playoff spot at the end of the season. However, if the Monarchs wish to move up in the standings, they need to turn around the away results as quickly as possible.
in summary, a focus on development of young players and strong appearances by a number of RSL players on assignment have left the Monarchs with a solid B through the first six matches.
In the next four:
The next four matches are a week apart and also evenly split with 2 each at home and away. Three of the four teams (San Antonio FC, Austin Bold FC and OKC Energy FC) are below the Monarchs in the current standings and only one ( Fresno FC) is above them with an unbeaten (2-0-3) record.
To keep pace the Monarchs need to take the full six points at home against San Antonio and Fresno and pick up points in at least one of the two matches on the road against expansion side Austin and OKC. Taft Stadium in Oklahoma City has not been kind to the Monarchs in the past and so the match against Austin becomes even more important.
Three major items to keep an eye on over the next four weeks are the possible return of injured midfield players, the further accumulation of yellow cards and which players the Monarchs receive on assignment from RSL.