The second half of the 2018 season has arrived and Match Day 18 will see San Antonio FC return home to face one of the best teams in all of USL for the first of two season meetings with Real Monarchs. We caught up with David Cheever (@takeyabue) from RSL Soapbox (@rslsoapbox) to get his thoughts on one of the league’s best teams. Here we go into another edition of the Six Pointer Preview.
- 1 – Let’s start off the field, as the Monarchs were involved in one of the biggest news stories in the league in the first half of the season with the accusations of domestic assault leveled against manager Mark Briggs. What’s the latest on the story, and how has it affected the team with Jamison Olave taking over managing duties?
(DC) The attitude and morale around the team have changed very little. Jamison Olave was well respected as a player and the largest voice for the defense even last year as an Assistant under Briggs. If anything, there has been an increased focus on team defense during training sessions under his direction, but little else.
- 2 – On the field, it seems to start with defense for the Monarchs. They are tops in USL West with 9 clean sheets. 5 for Jake Leeker and 4 for Connor Sparrow. Talk to us about the GK dynamic this season and who is most likely to play against San Antonio?
Goalkeeping this year with both RSL and Real Monarchs has been a story of injuries. Connor Sparrow was on a USL contract last season and rewarded for his excellent work with an MLS contract for 2018. As he is young, they brought in another older keeper, Alex Horwath, to serve as the #2 behind Nick Rimando and ride the bench with RSL leaving Connor free to get a lot of minutes with the Monarchs during 2018. Early in the season this plan worked well and allowed Connor to make appearances with the Monarchs and get those 4 shutouts. However, Horwath went down with a season-ending injury a couple months into the season, meaning Connor needed to travel with RSL and Jake Leeker emerged.
Leeker was a 2018 MLS super draft pick by RSL who signed with the Monarchs and took over in goal for the Monarchs first string keeper, Andrew Putna, was out with a hip injury of his own for an extended period. Then just as Putna came back to health and got a start with the Monarchs, Sparrow went down with a knee injury. This forced RSL to move Putna moved up to RSL and sign him to an MSL contract to back up Rimando. In short, you will see Leeker, who now has six clean sheets, against San Antonio with a goalkeeper from the RSL academy on the bench.
- 3 – On offense, there is no shortage of weapons. Just to name a few, Chandler Hoffman, Kalen Ryden, and Maikel Chang are the statistical leaders for the club. Talk to us about the offense in general and what makes these three players so dangerous?
Hoffman and Chang play in the top of the Monarchs 4-3-3 formation along with Masta Kacher, Josh Heard, and Juan Mare. Much of their success can be directly attributed to the effectiveness of Sebastian Valesquez, Justin Portillo and Charlie Adams who are become a force playing the 3 midfield positions. The Monarchs front three, whoever is on the field, rely upon service and typically are successful when they receive it. The recent injury to Velasquez hobbled the attack to a large extent and resulted in serve tough games during recent road trips. Kalen Ryden in a fullback by nature, but has also played some a center back for the Monarchs. He is a huge threat on corners and set pieces off the legs of Portillo and Adams as well. If the midfield of Valesquez, Portillo, and Adams is clicking the goals are being scored.
- 4 – What is the dynamic between the parent club in MLS and the Monarchs. Is there a lot of player movement and does their style represent what Real Salt Lake tries to do in their tactics?
The widely stated goal is that there is no difference in approach and tactics between RSL and Real Monarchs, only differences in player ability. This has lead to a number of players who originally signed USL contracts receiving MLS contracts. Andrew Putna was only the most recent when he signed an MLS contract on July 13. It also means that a good number of players with MLS contracts see playing time on loan with the Monarchs. It has been very common to see 3-5 players down from RSL for each match although with the number of injuries to players on the RSL roster this has declined recently.
Lastly, it has meant that the Monarchs began the season with a roster of only 16 players with one more, Jack Blake, recently coming in on loan from the Rowdies. The additional spots in the game day 18 and in practices are taken by RSL players down on loan and academy players getting a taste of life as a professional. When neither is available, however, the Monarchs have a hard time filling a game day 18. They have yet to use a previously named 11 man starting squad for a second time this season. There are always changes to the starting lineup and the bench.
- 5 – Real Monarchs have been very good at home but they have been more vulnerable on the road, losing all 4 of their matches away from home this year. What makes them such a tale of two teams, so to speak?
The Monarchs difficulty on the road this season comes down to two things. The injury to Sebastian Velasquez came in a tough stretch with away matches to many Western Conference’s playoff contenders. The Monarchs do not have anyone to take his playmaking role on their own roster and have brought in Jack Blake on loan from the Rowdies and Jose Hernandez down from RSL, but both struggled to combine with the forward three. The second is also the approach taken by both RSL and the Monarchs. The team plays the same on the road and at home. They will not bunker in and play for a point on the road. They go out to play their own game and like the chips fall as they may. this means they have less draws than any other Western Conference playoff contender than Portland Timbers 2, but they also have three more victories than any of the teams chasing them.
- 6 – Tell us something we should know about Real Monarchs?
The Monarchs have very nearly the same number of points from matches where they were under 50 percent possession as they do in matches with over 50% in possession. They are content to play without the majority of possession if that is the way the game progresses. Look toward quality of chances created and lack of turnovers as better indicators of how they are doing in a match.
Current Form (W-D-L)
San Antonio FC – W L D D L, 2018 Home Record 4-3-2
Real Monarchs – W W L D W, 2018 Road Record 5-1-4
San Antonio FC – 22 points, GF 16, GA 20, GD – 4, 11TH in USL West
Real Monarchs – 41 points, GF 29, GA 16, GD +13, 1st in USL West
All-Time History (W-D-L)
San Antonio FC has had an even split with Real Monarchs, so this match will tip the series in one direction if there is a victory by either side. The only match at Toyota Field in this series so far was a draw, a 2-2 affair last July. Overall, SAFC is 1-1-1 vs Real Monarchs.
7/21/18 @ SA
9/3/18 @ RM
It was an incredible match for SAFC last time they faced the Monarchs back on September 2, 2017, at Rio Tinto Stadium. SAFC was trailing 1-0 through 87 minutes before magic happened. First, there was an own goal by Taylor Peay in the 88th minute. That set up the extra time dramatics for Stephen McCarthy to be the hero with his late winner. No doubt, it was one of the most memorable matches of 2017. Here are the highlights.
The Matchup (W-D-L)
Real Monarchs (13-2-4) at San Antonio FC (5-7-5) #SAvSLC
Saturday, July 21, 2018
Kickoff 7:30 pm Central Time
Where to Watch: ESPN+
Key to victory
This is probably a bad time for the best team in all of USL to come to Toyota Field. San Antonio is reeling. They are coming off of their second 3-0 defeat at the hands of Orange County SC this season and they have only managed 2 points out of the last four matches while being out-scored 7-2 in that timeframe. Their goal differential on the season now sits at negative four and they have fallen to 11th on the table. Not good. On top of all that, it’s a busy week for the Silver and Black. This is the first of three matches over the next eight days.
It couldn’t be more opposite for Real Monarchs. They come into Toyota Field riding off of a 2-0 win against Seattle 2, their thirteenth victory of the season. They have a plus thirteen goal differential and they’re near the top of the league in nearly every statistical category. They have been the kings of the West these last two seasons, and it looks like they could remain there for a while.
If there are any cracks in their armor, it is on the road, which may be the only good sign for San Antonio coming into this one. All four of Real Monarchs losses this season have come on the road. But San Antonio will still have to contend with an offense that features three players with 4 goals or more this season, including team leader Chandler Hoffman. By contrast, San Antonio has zero players with at least 4 league goals.
And therein remains the familiar refrain for SAFC – who is going to score goals for this team? Unfortunately, it has become THE talking point of the season. At the halfway point of the season, San Antonio is tied with Tulsa for the worst scoring offense in all of USL at 16 goals. Total. That’s less than 1 goal per game, and that’s definitely a list you never want to see your team on. But it’s a reality for this 2018 San Antonio squad. If this team is going to crawl back into playoff contention, it’s a Rubix cube that must be solved.
Real Monarchs have been one of the most consistent teams of the last two seasons. They were top of the West last season, and there they remain at the halfway mark of 2018. Despite the fact that they struggle on the road, it’s very hard to pick against the team at the top. Especially considering how poor San Antonio has looked in the last month. If SAFC can pull it off, it will be the upset of the season. But we’re not predicting it. It’s hard to envision any late match heroics coming out of this one, like the last time these two teams met. We think it’s an easy three points for the Monarchs this week.
San Antonio FC – 0
Real Monarchs – 2
Only one SAFC player has worn the number 79. Name that player.
Answer in next the next Six Pointer Preview.