USL soccer is returning to the Wasatch front this Sunday. It has been 11 years since a USL Pro team was in Utah. The Utah Blitzz were in existence from 2000 to 2004, and walked off the field in Charlotte in 11 years ago with the Pro Select Championship in hand. It was their second Championship in five years, and a team that had played in four semifinals.
The USL had told the Blitzz they intended to move them up a division, but with RSL coming to town, the Blitzz decided to close up shop, and management would do what they could to help the fledgling MLS club. It is kind of fitting that years later that Utah Blitzz midfielder Adolfo Ovalle's 17-year-old son Adolfo (or "Fito" as he's sometimes known) has a good shot of taking the field for the Real Monarchs Sunday at LA, as the recently signed RSL player could travel with the team.
It's an interesting setup MLS has with USL pro now. With some MLS clubs teams creating affiliations with existing USL clubs, and in the Monarchs and LA Galaxy II's case, the creation of a club to help with the development of younger players. The Monarchs will be fielding players their own 15-man roster, some players from their youth soccer academy in Casa Grande, Arizona, and first team players that might not be regulars on the 18-man Real Salt Lake roster.
RSL's technical director, Craig Waibel, realizes the importance of the Monarchs. "It's also an awesome opportunity for some of our other guys to go get 90 minutes and play in a competitive match and prepare for their first-team minutes that are coming up," he said in an interview ESPN 700. "There's a lot to it, and this recent addition of the Monarchs into the fold is just an awesome, awesome opportunity for our guys to play meaningful games at a couple different levels."
Monarchs head coach Freddy Juarez is the man who will get all these players situated, and figure out who to put on the field. "Jeff [Cassar] has been very good," he told ESPN 700. "We meet once a week, twice a week, and talk about the possibilities of what player is going to play with us. We’ve had some guys consistently come and train with us. These comes down, and there’s chip on their shoulder. We’ll get some players this weekend to come and work with us." He knows the importance of the Monarchs, and how to develop players in the RSL system. "We're going to play the way the first team wants us to play."
Juarez has spent quite a few years learning the "RSL system" coaching for RSL's soccer academy. "I'm working them all really hard and some of them are not used to it. It's not easy to get RSL's style of play. We ask them to do a lot of different things, and it hopefully helps. That's what I'm banking on -- the guys that are new can communicate with the guys that I've coached before, and then say, "listen, he knows what he's doing, and he only wants the best for us. If we listen and are open-minded, it should work for everyone." If we have team success, more individuals have success. For me, it's all about team, and the rest always takes care of itself."
The Monarchs have added some players from Grande Sports Academy who have been in the RSL system, and some other talented players. Those players include guys like Emery Welshman. The Guyanese international who was once MLS Superdraft first round selection by Toronto FC. He saw some preseason action scored for RSL in the Desert Diamond Cup and is a player who Juarez really likes: "The sky is the limit for Emery," he said in a radio interview.
Another player that may draw some interest locally is former BYU player Garrett Losee. Garrett was playing for FC Tucson during the Desert Diamond Cup, and tried out for the Monarchs. "He's not a finished product by no means. He's still young." Juarez said, "He's a very smart tactical player."
The Monarchs will begin their season Sunday at LA Galaxy II, then travel to Portland the following week before hosting their first home on April 8.