On deadline day, Real Salt Lake sent Aaron Maund north of the border and welcomed two players to its Real Monarchs ranks. These moves opened up a proverbial Pandora’s box of directions for the organisation. A roster spot and cap space the size of a first team player for 5 years isn’t a small change to the squad but at this point in the season, with MLS Playoff qualification almost certainly impossible, the strengthening of Real Monarchs adds another twist in the tale.
Almost immediately rumours sprang up that RSL would be calling up somebody from the Monarchs, who have enjoyed an unstoppable season and sit top of the west and total points leader, to compete for first team minutes. This isn’t the first time this has come up of course with Sebastian Velasquez and Chandler Hoffman being denied a spot in the US Open Cup squad for RSL this season thanks to a bizarre rule on age. Of course, Mike Petke was the coach at the Monarchs and boasts a 100% win rate in his three month, one game run down in the USL.
All which leads us to the question: “Who?”
For me, it has to be Chandler Hoffman. He’s got 13 goals in 21 games which puts him as third highest scorer in the 2017 USL season. He’s 6ft tall and 161lb so he’s tall enough to play as a lone forward but quick enough to play alongside Plata, Savarino and Rusnak. He’s a calm finisher and has a habit of being in the right place at the right time which is more skill from him than luck. He’s had a few MLS games at Philly, LA and Houston so he knows something about the league and RSL need goals in the worst way and depth at striker. However I reserve the right to be excluded from shame if Sebastian Velasquez ends up being called up!
I have two picks I’d like to see come up to RSL (but I fully support Benjamin’s assessment of Hoffman and would not hate to see that). First off, I’d like to see Sebastian Velasquez rejoin the first team. He’s been an integral part of the Monarchs this season and he already knows what it takes to play in MLS. He’s 26, so he’s coming into his prime as a player and he deserves another chance. He can be a replacement for Rusnak as an impact sub, another midfielder, or play out on the wings, where we already have, admittedly, too much talent. Velasquez seems to have dealt some of his personal struggles and he needs to challenge himself on the field to grow professionally. Also, I miss the Rufio chants from the movie Hook when he’s on the pitch for RSL.
My second pick is Connor Sparrow. He’s been incredible in goal and his rate of stopping PKs is on a whole other level. Sadly, Nick Rimando is not immortal (contrary to all evidence up to this point) and I don’t believe either Lalo or Van Oekel have what it takes to be a starting keeping in MLS. I’m not sure Sparrow does either, he might need more time with the Monarchs to develop, but I’d like to see him get a game in at some point with the first team.
To my mind there are two sides to this question.
Which current Monarch could provide immediate benefit to RSL? The only compelling reason to make a move at this point in time rather than at the end of the season is to provide assistance to any playoff run RSL might make this season. If this season is already marked down as a developmental workup for future seasons, there is not a lot of reason to a make a move.
Common perception holds that the most urgent needs for RSL are for a backup or spot starter at #9 (in addition to Luis Silva and Yura Movsisyan) and a backup #4 (in addition to Sunny and Kyle Beckerman). Movsisyan is almost universally held to be gone next season if not before. Chad Barrett is healing and may be able to contribute but is still a way off. Once neither Kyle or Sunny becomes unavailable there is no like for like replacement in the current squad.
Who can the Monarchs lose and still finish the season strongly? Chandler Hoffman has been the #9 for all of the Monarchs’ run this season. He leads the team in starts with 21 and is second in minutes played with 1796. His 14 goals make him a prominent contender for the USL Golden Boot. If he leaves the Monarchs now, his loss will be felt.
However, as we discovered earlier this year Chandler cannot be called up from USL to MLS because of his age. On the other hand, on a MLS contract Chandler could still appear as available for the Monarchs and while making spot appearances in MLS to assist RSL. With previous MLS experience he knows what is required at that level and seems a very strong candidate for a call up next season if not before. The addition of Juan Mare, with the attendant need to get him some minutes for evaluation, and the presence of Jonel Desire and Skyler Milne on the season long roster gives some choice for the coaching staff if Chandler is not available.
Nick Besler, like Kyle Beckerman on the parent club, is the de facto captain and on field leader of the Monarchs. He is tied with Chandler for appearances and leads the team in minutes with 1845. His loss would be felt as the Monarchs have no other true #4 on the roster. Karsten Hanlin, Michael Gallagher and James Moberg have played in his absence but really have no long term shot at that position. I would leave him in place with the Monarchs and continue to give him the bulk of the minutes
Max Lachowecki and Sebastian Velasquez both probably have a shot at RSL contracts next year, but in both cases there are good options already on the squad. Danny Acosta need time and left fullback if that is his position to win and Jose Hernandez also needs time to determine his future with the squad.
Connor Sparrow is a special case in that I believe he is the current goalkeeper of the future for RSL. However, the best preparation for him at this point is playing as much as possible. Leave him as the Monarchs number 1 choice even into next season and play him as much as possible while letting Lalo and Van Oekel ride the pine and make spot starts for RSL.
So. if you skipped straight to the bottom, Chandler Hoffman would be my choice. Oh, and be on the look out for defensive midfielders (both squads need more).
This is a hard question to answer. Let’s talk about who I would like to see come up, who deserves it, and who I think will come up. Eh, a lot of these overlap so here’s a wish list in no particular order.
Connor Sparrow is amazing. 5/5 on saved penalties is absolutely ridiculous. I think Lalo has had more than enough time to prove himself, and frankly as a younger, growing older keeper he hasn't done that. I would think it to be a bad move if he and Van Oekel weren’t pushed out in the coming offseason. Rufio would be fantastic to see, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him come up, although if only one player were to come up I don’t think he would be my first choice as I feel depth wise there is a greater priority. Thus I think Besler/Brody is a smart move in case of injury in the midfield. While currently Brody plays more on the wings, he can hold that spot down. Also Hoffman, what else could be said about this?
I think quite a few of the Monarchs deserve call-ups, as for which should... we that’s something else entirely. So for my top 4 players most deserving of getting a bump to the first team I have:
- Chandler Hoffman - A goal-poacher that we haven’t had for eons on RSL. He’s scored from breaks, giveaways, open play and buildups; he’s a real finisher and as Dave mentioned above; being added to RSL doesn’t mean he can’t be loaned back to finish the season.
- Sebastian Velasquez - He hasn’t lost much (if anything) of his talent from years ago. At times he’s reminiscent of Juan “Burrito” Martinez with his footwork. Playing him alongside Albert Rusnak would make RSL’s midfield a real threat.
- Nick Besler - Captain and ironman. He’s been the stabilizing force for the Monarchs; directing the attack, reinforcing the defense and even picking up a few goals. Mentoring by Kyle Beckerman could make him the long-sought heir apparent.
- Connor Sparrow - Wall of the Wasatch jr. This kid has to have learned from Nick Rimando the tricks for stopping PK’s! Like Hoffman, RSL can sign him and then loan him back to finish the season if needed. From what I’ve seen he should be ahead of Lalo Fernandez on the list.
I’m hesitant to point out a single player as more deserving for his performances than others, simply because we have a lot of players that have been impressive. Let’s go over a few of them.
Sebastian Velasquez headlines, obviously, and rightly so. But neither serve in positions of real need — and before you start down the “but our midfield” road, I’d like to point out that our attacking midfield is actually very, very well-stocked. You have Albert Rusnak leading, Jefferson Savarino able to fill in, Sebastian Saucedo a reasonable backup option, and Jose Hernandez a pretty solid reserve player with a lot of opportunity for growth. That’s all without counting in Luke Mulholland, who Jeff Cassar repeatedly deployed in that position when Javier Morales wasn’t available last year.
Chandler Hoffman is a good example, but again, I think this is an area where we’re well-stocked. And I know, I know — Yura Movsisyan hasn’t been great, and there was a chance he could leave, but reporting from MLS expert Sam Stejskal indicates he won’t be going anywhere before the offseason. I think you can bench a $2m striker, but it’s an awfully hard sell to stop playing him completely and give up all hope of keeping him in the team. It’s jut not a very feasible option. Luis Silva’s still around, and Chad Barrett might come back before too terribly long. For that reason, I wouldn’t bring Hoffman in now, although I would very, very strongly consider him for the 2018 season.
James Moberg has been solid for Monarchs, but again — we are absolutely stacked at center back, and while he could be a great option down the line, it wouldn’t make sense to bring him in now. I’d argue the same for Max Lachowecki, who would find himself behind Demar Phillips, Danilo Acosta and Chris Wingert at left back.
And sure, maybe Andrew Brody’s a good option — but again, our wings are doing quite well, with Joao Plata, Savarino, Lennon and Saucedo as options.
Where is RSL weak, then? I’d argue it’s about the defensive midfield. If Kyle Beckerman or Sunny goes down, Luke Mulholland is a starter, and while that on its own isn’t a bad thing, we’d have no players to come off the bench — that is, unless we decide to move Acosta or Justen Glad to that position in a pinch. Still, that’s where I’d say we’re weakest. Let’s go with Nick Besler or Charlie Adams.