As two of the main objectives for Real Monarchs SLC 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.
With a total of 10 matches now played it is time to give the final first term grades for Real Monarchs SLC. 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 term cover initial ten matches while each of the remaining terms will cover 8 matches apiece. The final term grade is given and then for comparison the mid-term grade is given in parentheses.
Goalkeeping: B+ (A)
18-year-old David Ochoa, who was signed by RSL directly from the academy in November of 2018, was in the nets for all of the first six matches going the entire 540 minutes with 25 saves and 2 clean sheets. However, in the four matches since then Evan Finney, Alex Horwath, and Andrew Putna have each had a start for the Monarchs. David Ochoa only played in the Fresno FC match at home on March 4th.
While all four had decent performances in their matches, the rotation seemed to cause additional issues for a back line that was also in flux resulting in their opponents averaging 2.5 goals per match and no clean sheets. David Ochoa has been named to the US squad for the FIFA U-20 Championship in Poland, and could miss up to another 4 or 5 matches. Evan Finney and Todd Morton, the two goalkeepers on the Monarchs USL roster, should begin to see regular action along with with an occasional appearance by Andrew Putna now that Nick Rimando has returned to health for Real Salt Lake.
Defense: B (B+)
Andrew Brody who is the only Monarch to play a full ninety minutes in each of the ten matches, continues to be the regular in the back line although he had a midfield start in Austin to help cover the injuries thers. Kalen Ryden, James Moberg, Konrad Plewa and Stanley Okumo continue to share time in the center of the defense, while academy player Pierre Delentz got his first two professional starts on the left. .
With no clean sheets and ten goals conceded in the past four matches, on-going issues have also emerged. The defense, in particular, continue to have difficulty with set pieces and against size and height in the box. The return of Okumo and Jasso from injury and the debut of Delentz have all contributed to the development of the younger players and provided support to the overall grade.
Midfield: C- (C-)
The midfield remains the thinnest part of the Monarchs’ USL roster with only five members. It also continues to be greatly impacted by injury. Only the captain, Jack Blake, has appeared in at lease eight matches and gone for 720 minutes. Jordan Pena and Ricardo Avila continue to hone their pairing in defensive midfield, but have on 6 appearances each and are the next highest in playing time.
Productive appearances by Tate Schmitt and Justin Portillo on assignment from RSL have helped solidify the midfield, but the appearances by Paulo Ruiz have been much less impressive.
The story continues to be while a great deal of effort is on consistent display, the midfield has failed to control the pace of matches and proven unable to effectively hold possession in the midfield or move the ball upfield through possession. 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 that the team really misses a creative spark in the center.
Attack: B (B-)
With the wingers added the Monarchs’ have six attacking players on their roster. Maikel Chang continues to lead this group with 821 minutes a five goals in his ten appearances. Douglas Martinez has consistently put forth yeoman work at the top of the attack when healthy. Josh Heard, Masta Kacher, and recently, Tate Schmitt add a touch of speed and punch to the attack. The average of 2 goals per match is higher than it was for the initial six matches, but still falls short of the 2.5 allowed per match.
As a group, however, the offense still need to up their game and receive adequate servie and support from the midfield to add to the danger of the Monarchs attack.
Overall: C+ (B)
With a record of 3-4-3 across the first ten matches the Monarchs have drop from 8th to 15th in past four matches and are three points from the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The loss at home to Fresno FC was especially worrisome as they were outplayed on their home turf. The Monachs’ schedule continues to be evenly split between home matches (3-1-1) and away matches (0-3-2).
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 still need to turn around the away results as quickly as possible.
in summary, their focus on development of young players even when games get away from them, especially on the road, have kept them at a passing C+ but for that to continue they will need to continue their dominance at home.
In the next four:
The next four matches continue to alternate between home and away with home matches against 3rd place Phoenix Rising this Saturday and then Rio Grande Valley FC, which sits just 1 point above the Monarchs on June 8th. The next road match is also a Wednesday match jut four days after the match with Phoenix Rising against 2nd place Portland Timbers 2. The final road match comes after another two week break and is at Weidner Field against Colorado Springs Switchbacks who are the only one of four with fewer points than the Monarchs.
To keep in the race for a playoff spot the Monarchs need to take at least 1 point from the pair of matches against Phoenix and Portland and then finish strong against Rio Grande Valley FC and Colorado Spring Switchbacks with a full six point. Taking their first ever point at Taft Stadium in Oklahoma City will hopefully begin to give the Monarchs a leg up on making their road matches more productive.
Three major items to keep an eye on over the next four weeks are the emergence of any type of playmaker in the central midfield, a further reduction in the number of yellow cards and how successful the Monarchs are at keeping their players healthy and on the pitch.