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Why Real Monarchs is the team you should be watching

Between some good soccer and a coherent identity, Real Monarchs SLC is the team to watch.

Danilo Acosta playing for Real Monarchs in September.
John Engels

Real Salt Lake’s recent run of form has us all a bit on edge. Reasonably. so. But maybe we’ve all been paying too much attention to an ailing team, especially when a good one is growing right under our noses: Real Monarchs.

With two games played, Real Monarchs have been revelatory — and not just because they’re winning. It’s because they’re putting together coherent performances, making a system work for them, and have collected a surprising group of potential MLS players in the squad.

Coherent performances and a working system

Time is a tricky thing, but if you’d told me in November or so that Real Monarchs would face a team with Shaun Wright-Phillips, Omar Bravo and some other notables, I’d have looked at you with a confused expression. Phoenix Rising has brought players in that we’d never have expected in USL a short time ago. Real Monarchs beat them, and it wasn’t even particularly close. In their two matches so far, the Monarchs have looked like a team that understands what they have, what they’re doing, and what could come next.

Interestingly, the Monarchs are playing in roughly the same shape as Real Salt Lake has been — and while plenty have talked about that as a broken system, it sure doesn’t seem to be the case here. The main thing they’re doing? They’re making the system work for them, and they’re not working for the system. There’s a fine balance here, and I don’t really know how to strike it — regardless, it’s a palpable difference you can see in on-field performances.

Perhaps the biggest thing is that the team’s identity seems to be more than the formation and the necessities it entails. They want to keep the ball, not attack with every touch. They’re willing to maintain when space isn’t opening up. They’ve crated an identity, and Real Salt Lake, to this point, hasn’t.

There may, of course, be more to it than any of this — Real Monarchs have played just two games, and Real Salt Lake, just five. It’s food for thought, though.

An MLS-aspiring roster

Real Monarchs are currently home to a number of players that are likely hoping to make it in MLS, and the goal should be that these players are given a stepping stone — it’s the next natural part of the process.

  • Max Lachowecki, an RSL draft pick that’s only in his second year with the Monarchs
  • Jesus Leal, a young midfielder who got his start at Club America
  • Charlie Adams, a 22-year-old midfielder that moved from Brentford to Louisville City, and who continues to impress at Real Monarchs, having arrived late last year
  • Taylor Peay, who was on the fringes of MLS play with Portland Timbers, and Nick Besler, who was in the same position
  • Kyle Curinga, who joined Real Monarchs after three seasons playing in Finland
  • Sebastian Velasquez, who comes back to a familiar situation looking to become an MLS regular, not an occasional substitute

The squad certainly skews a little older than perhaps it has in years past, but there are talented young players around, too — see Andrew Brody for one key example, and don’t be surprised if more join in the summer following college graduation.

But by bringing in players in this 23 to 25 range, we’re gaining two things: First, we’ll get better leadership on the field. It’ll give us a better chance with young players by giving them that steady hand. Second, we’re getting players who are more likely to be on the cusp of making an MLS team than in years past, and that could play out in a particularly positive way if the team continues to improve and individual players continue to see success.

In essence, it’s doing what Real Salt Lake did in the era of The Team is the Star — when everyone involved does well, individuals are more likely to have better opportunities, and they’re more likely to improve when they’re playing with better, more experienced players.