If you're new to Real Salt Lake and trying to get some firm footing on the ins and outs around the club, you've probably noticed that minor-league team, Real Monarchs, getting a lot of attention.
And rightly so — a true reserves system is finally in place, giving Real Salt Lake a new dimension of development, from players to coaching to fans. But you might not know everything you'd like to, and we'd like to guide you along the path.
Who are Real Monarchs?
They're Real Salt Lake's minor league affiliate. Owned by the club but operated somewhat independently, the Monarchs play in USL — United Soccer Leagues, formerly known as USL Pro — which is the third division of American soccer. (They're aiming for second division, but we'll see how this plays out.)
As part of conforming to an MLS mandate that all teams had to either partner with a USL team or create their own by 2016, Real Salt Lake started planning for Real Monarchs. RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen pushed that along financially, and they've been searching for a stadium since then. They almost ended up near San Diego, but a city council where they hoped to build a stadium by purchasing an aging golf course shot down the idea. After that, they almost ended up at the Utah State Fairpark, but after difficulties getting the idea substantiated in the Utah State Legislature, Hansen pulled out of the discussion. Now, Hansen and Real Monarchs are looking at West Valley City, where, by some miracle, they look to be ending up.
In essence, Monarchs are Real Salt Lake's reserves team like you see in Germany, Spain and other countries. Think of it as a (slightly less talented) FC Bayern Munich II or FC Barcelona B. In previous years, the reserves — if they existed at all — were an ad hoc team made available on a match-by-match basis, and any member of your first team could play on the reserves team. In addition, teams could also play guest players, like trialists or academy players. It wasn't particularly cohesive, and matches were sometimes canceled with little advance notice.
What was it like, having a reserves team playing so few games a year?
I mean, it wasn't good, right? When you are trying to develop players, matches help immensely. When you're trying to get those players matches, and they're only able to make their way into reserves matches, every minute of those ends up mattering. And that's fine, but when they can be cancelled at any minute, and when they're played in a three-month span, and when an uninjured player might have eight or nine potential reserves appearances in a season? Well, it's not a recipe for developing talent.
So MLS mandated this because...?
Well, you've got to develop talent somehow. You can't just assume that players will grow like zucchini or weeds or something like that. No, they need nurturing and attention. It's not like they're delicate flowers — sometimes, all they need is time. So maybe they're more like chili peppers or something, if I'm allowed to totally screw up this metaphor.
Okay, but why now? Why not a decade ago?
It's a long time coming, isn't it? You might argue that it's been down to a financial constraint — some (most?) clubs weren't necessarily willing to put their money into something that didn't provide immediate dividends. It's not as if MLS could have just created the mandate, given it's sort of hinged on the owner-investor model, so buy-in was probably vital. And with some financial windfalls — think about that $100m expansion fee New York City FC paid to get into the league — it probably was the right time for them.
I think I get it. I've heard something about Real Salt Lake players being able to play with Monarchs?
That's the case, yeah. RSL will occasionally send some players on short-term or longer-term loans to Monarchs, and MLS rules support this. Here's the thing, though: We don't know what those rules are yet. We don't know how many players can move up and down, and what sort of impact they'll make. We're sort of flying blind in the media, but you know, it could be worse.
We'll get at least some sense of what the rules are when we kick off our first game on Sunday against LA Galaxy II.
Why are there all these teams with “II” and “2” in their names? Isn't that ... unoriginal?
I guess so. But that's how they do it on the continent.
Who's in the squad?
We've got some interesting players, from Marvin Baumgartner, the El Salvadoran international from Switzerland, to Emery Welshman, the former MLS SuperDraft first-round pick. But we also have a number of college graduates, former RSL-AZ academy players, and more. We don't have any real veteran types — the oldest rostered player is 24 — so it'll be interesting to see if that becomes something we need. We'll have more on the squad in the coming days as we preview the Monarchs season
And what might happen with those players? Could they play for Real Salt Lake?
Maybe someday. But right now, no — they're contracted to USL, and there's not — as far as I know — a loan agreement going the other direction. But if a player does well and Real Salt Lake needs a signing, it might make a lot of sense to bring in a player that's done well for Monarchs in a system that's similar, rather than scouring the globe (or even just MLS) for a suitable backup. It won't be where our most exciting signings come from (probably, at least), but it should be fun.
So ... would you say they're the future?
We'll see. And you'll see what we think in the coming days.
More in the coming days on Real Monarchs — including a breakdown of the roster, a look at the teams' first opponents, and what a shared system means for the the Real Salt Lake organization.