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How should player development and Real Monarchs SLC connect?

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In response to the sudden downfall in success of Real Monarchs SLC, the question of how much player development should matter needs to be talked about.

Lucas Muller - RSL Soapbox

In 2017, Real Monarchs SLC had their most successful season in franchise history. Led by head coach Mark Briggs, the Monarchs went 20-5-7 that season, scoring 59 goals, setting the record for most consecutive wins in USL history, and winning the regular season shield.

In 2018 the Monarchs went 19-12-3 on the season to get fourth place and had a +8 goal differential. They made the playoffs for the second year in a row only to lose again in the first round.

So far in 2019, Real Monarchs SLC has gone 6-6-3 in 16 games, has a goal differential of zero and is sitting in 14th place, the lowest the team has been since before 2017. On Monday morning, head coach and former RSL Academy head Martin Vasquez left the club following a 3-1 road win.

There is no denying at this point that Real Monarchs SLC is on a downhill slope after reaching a high in 2017. This team is struggling for a lot of reasons, but mainly because of the significant personnel turnover RMSLC had at the end of the 2018 season.

In August of 2018 head coach Mark Briggs resigned from the club, and in November of 2018, the Real Monarchs denied options on nearly the entirety of their roster leaving them just ten players — not even so much as a goalkeeper — at the end of their second-most successful season in franchise history.

There’s nothing wrong with getting rid of a lot of your roster, but when that much overturn happens and your team drops in the standings, it leads to a lot of tough questions that have to be answered.

How does player development connect with Real Monarchs? Should RMSLC not care about their current losing ways because they’re giving players valuable minutes? Should player development specifically mean to the Real Salt Lake first team? How does the RSL academy fit into all of this?

Some fans think these poor results don’t matter because of all the supposed player development we are having in place of wins. These results do matter, though. This team is a professional sports team tasked by management with winning games, and secondarily developing players. The players on the field should want to win games and fans, players, and owners alike shouldn’t be complacent with a losing season because of maybe getting a good player or two experience out of it. This team should play to win regularly while still developing players, and that isn’t happening currently.

Fans seem to think you either have one or the other. It’s either winning games or developing players. It is possible to do both though. RMSLC did just that in 2017. In 2017 campaign, the Monarchs most successful season to date, there were 30 men on the official roster. All but six of those men still play for professional soccer teams in 2019, and seven of those remaining 23 still play in the Real Salt Lake organization.

This, however, brings to light another issue: the loss of talent to other organizations. Although frustrating at times, every player to come through the Monarchs isn’t going to stay with them or go up to the first team. Just because a player develops through the Real Monarchs doesn’t mean they have to or should stay here.

Richard Ledezma is a prime example of this. Mark Briggs gave Ledezma a chance to make a name for himself as he neared aging out of the academy, he did so by playing five matches and scoring one goal with RMSLC. Now, Salt Lake fans get to boast about the kid from the RSL Academy that plays for PSV Eindhoven and represents the USA in the U20 World Cup.

This player overturn is a necessary evil of the developmental process. RSL is, inevitably, not going to be able to keep every player who plays for RMSLC. It doesn’t mean RSL isn’t developing players. Developing a player shouldn’t stop at getting them to Real Salt Lake, they should be developing players to play for the best clubs and in the best leagues in the world.

The Real Salt Lake Academy is another part of the development conversation. The academy continues to pump out good talent. Whether it’s Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera, Danny Acosta, Bofo Saucedo, Richard Ledezma, Sebastian Soto, David Ochoa, the list goes on. There’s a lot of talent in our academy. The academy is there for one sole reason though, development. It’s not a professional level so they don’t have to worry about wins in the same way. That is why they should be worried more about the development of young players than RMSLC.

For example, Sebastian Soto never saw any minutes for RMSLC but was still able to become one of the most prolific goal scorers of his age group in the academy. The U19 academy level exists for players like Soto to play against the best talent of their age groups before going to college or signing with a professional team. The 17 and 18-year-old kids don’t necessarily need to be brought up with RMSLC just yet because they have that U19 age category to continue playing in the academy.

It is beneficial for players to have the Monarchs to go to for more experience, but every academy product doesn’t necessarily need to see 90 minutes every week with them. RMSLC should primarily be focused on the players who chose to take a college route or have aged out of the academy. The academy level exists for young players to develop, they don’t need to play for RMSLC to develop.

It takes a lot of different parts to make up a successful USL team. Mark Briggs and company seemed to have figured it out pretty well in 2017. In 2017 and early 2018 it may not seem like the same level of player development happened as appears to be 2019, but it did. Players like Sebastian Saucedo, Conner Sparrow, Nick Besler, Andrew Putna, Justin Portillo, and more got their start with the Monarchs. In addition, academy talents Richard Ledezma, Sebastian Soto, and David Ochoa regularly trained with and on occasion suited up for the Real Monarchs. It’s not easy, but it’s possible to win, develop young players, and integrate academy players. Something needs to change soon so we can see that happen again.