Match Day 27 will see San Antonio FC wrapping up a quick two-game road trip as they once again will face one of the best teams in all of USL for the second of two season meetings with Real Monarchs. It’ll be another Holiday affair as the match will happen on Labor Day Monday night. We caught up with David Cheever 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 – San Antonio had one of their biggest surprise victories of 2018 against the Monarchs back in July – what were your thoughts from that match and where did the Monarchs fall short?
(DC) One of the Monarchs’ pain points all season long has been the final connection to the top attacking three players. Sebastian Velasquez does a great job in the center and in penetration when he is on the field, but everyone else they have attempted to use in this position has struggled mightily. While he did score twice against San Antonio on the road, he was still coming back from his initial stretch of injury and failed to connect the top three as he does when at his best. The almost immediate own goal by Michael Gallagher also caused the Monarchs to press repeatedly in search of a reply which got the team back into the game with their two goals, but also led to a very tired team by the end of the match. Shawn Berry, a new signing at RSL this season, made a rehabilitation appearance as he returned from injury in central defense in the first match and communication difficulty was the result.
- 2 – Ten clean sheets for the Monarchs this season, which is tied for tops in USL West. Fair to say the defense remains the calling card of this team? And how did a struggling SAFC team put in four goals on this team?
Jake Leeker, the Monarchs’ goalkeeper in the initial match, began the season as the third choice for the Monarchs behind Connor Sparrow and Andrew Putna. As a new professional he still is learning to command his back line and when to come out and when to stay put. Together with the quick own goal and the Monarchs reluctance to pull back defensively, they were left chasing the game against a team that was feeling their oats. With the injuries this season, Leeker quickly became a regular starter and is now moved to become the bench sub for RSL while Andrew Putna is starting for RSL. Adam Grinwis has been brought in on an emergency loan from Orlando City to fill the void and has two good starts against Tulsa and Los Dos at home, but has yet to face any top USL side or go on the road with the Monarchs. Wednesday at Colorado Springs against the Switchbacks will be a huge test for him.
- 3 – One interesting thing I noticed about the Monarchs is their offensive efficiency. Their 18% scoring rate is tops in USL West. They won’t shoot you to death, but they’ll make the most of their chances. How much of that is coaching style and how much of it is a group of players who know when to pick their spots?
Since taking over as interim manager, Jamison Olave has focused on the defensive side of the ball in line with his natural vocation in an attempt to shore up a defense that has allowed a number of embarrassingly easy goals on quick transitions and breakdown in positional defense. Charlie Adams, Justin Portillo, and Maikel Chang can all provide great service, especially when the first two can be less focused on the defensive side of the play. Chandler Hoffman requires that service and can become a non-factor quickly without it. Set pieces at the start of the season were deadly for the Monarchs and they have recently also begun to emphasize and practice them extensively once again. The Monarchs also frequently choose to make that additional pass to penetrate a defense rather than a bomb from outside with mixed results.
- 4 – The scorers get all the headlines, but talk to us about Maikel Chang. He’s tops in Assists and Chances for the Monarchs. Tell us more about his role on the team and his success this year.
Maikel has become a major part of the connection on the offensive with the injuries to Velasquez and the overall rotation of starters and players. His partnership with Justin Portillo goes back to their time in Charleston and continues to pay major dividends for the Monarchs who chose to bring them both in together. In the absence of Velasquez, penetration of bunker defenses frequently falls upon his shoulders. He also provides a bit of height for a team that runs to the short side.
- 5 – Real Monarchs have been very good at home – no losses – and San Antonio has not been very effective on the road this year – only three wins. Is this a sure victory for Monarchs and what makes Rio Tinto such a fortress?
Luck has definitely played a role in the Monarchs string of home victories that have included a number of shots of the woodwork and an embarrassing number of easy transition goals. They have also seen a lot of conservative play from teams coming into the stadium and attempting to get a point. If the Monarchs get early lead things can open up, but frequently the matches remain close and contested to the end. San Antonio should come in with a decent amount of confidence from their earlier victory at home and, with a good performance, should make it a close contest throughout.
- 6 – What’s your prediction for where Monarchs will finish, and how will their season end?
I believe that the Monarchs will hold onto the lead in the Western Conference as they have a relatively favorable remaining schedule. They still have a road date with Orange County in Irvine and a long trip down to Edinburg to face Rio Grande Valley, but after the match with San Antonio, they do not face a lot of teams in the hunt for playoff spots. However, if they are unable to get some of their goalkeepers back from RSL and keep Velasquez healthy they will struggle to go deep in the playoffs. Until last week it looked that there might be a possible emotional shakeup if Mark Briggs returned to his duties as Head Coach, but his resignation once the court case was dropped removed that possibility.
Current Form (W-D-L)
San Antonio FC – L L L L W, 2018 Road Record 3-4-6
Real Monarchs – W W L W W, 2018 Home Record 12-1-0
San Antonio FC – 37 points, GF 32, GA 36, -4 GD, 9th in USL West
Real Monarchs – 54 points, GF 46, GA 27, +19 GD, 1st in USL West
All-Time History (W-D-L)
San Antonio FC took the lead in this series with their win at Toyota Field in July. Overall, SAFC is 2-1-1 vs Real Monarchs.
7/21/18 @ SA – SA 4, RM 2
9/3/18 @ RM
It was arguably the biggest win of the season for San Antonio last time these two teams got together, and it kick-started a four-match win streak for the team. San Antonio exploded for four goals on the night. The game got off to a great start for SAFC with an own goal in the opening minute. Gordon, Guzman, and Ward would go on to put the match out of reach. You can catch all the blistering highlights from an action-packed match, right here.
The Matchup (W-D-L)
San Antonio FC (10-7-9) at Real Monarchs (17-3-6) #SLCvSA
Monday, September 3, 2018
Rio Tinto Stadium
Kickoff 8:00 pm Central Time
Where to Watch: ESPN+
Key to victory
At halftime at RGV last Wednesday night, things weren’t looking so good for SAFC. They were in the midst of a franchise long four-match losing streak, and thanks to an early goal by Jesus Enriquez, they were trailing yet again. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that locker room, b/c whatever was said by Powell, the players, or both, lead to the most important turnaround of the season. And the contributions were plentiful. Five players contributed a goal or an assist in the second half. San Antonio hadn’t seen a night like that on the stat sheet in a looooong time.
The star of the show was Lance Liang who made his first start for the club on the night. The Cincinnati FC loanee got going with an assist on the opening goal from Presley and topped it off with the eventual match-winner, beating Corti with a superb shot. It was his first goal and assist for San Antonio. It was also Presley’s first San Antonio goal, making that his first ever professional goal. Quite a moment for the midfielder who has looked likely to score plenty of times previously. Laing’s goal was assisted by Lopez, his first since the Monarchs match over a month ago. Then Guzman capped it off with his team-leading 6th league goal of the season, his first in four matches. Despite that mini-drought, it has now been 5 goals in the last 8 appearances for Guzman – by far the most consistent performer for SAFC this season. San Antonio has won 5 of the 6 games that he has scored in this season. To bring it all home, Guadarrama assisted the Guzman goal – his first assist for San Antonio FC.
As you can see, San Antonio got contributions from all over the lineup. I think I speak for all SAFC fans when I say …..more of that, please?! That’s the kind of balanced performance we thought we’d see all season long. Better late than never. And just like that, SAFC finds themselves riding the playoff yo-yo once again. They’re currently in 9th, but they have a game in hand on Swope, who sits one spot ahead of them at eighth. They also have a very vital head to head match with Swope still to come.
Next up for San Antonio FC is their second Holiday Match of the year – this one will be Labor Day Monday night. It’s also their second of two meetings on the season against USL West leader Real Monarchs. The first match was a very surprising win for SAFC. It would be an even bigger stunner if they can pull off the sweep.
The Monarchs have won twelve and drawn once at home this year. Zero defeats. You could say they’re pretty decent at Rio Tinto Stadium. San Antonio only has three road wins in thirteen matches away from Toyota Field. And the Monarchs are plus twenty-three on San Antonio in goal differential. On paper, this looks like an unfair fight. Don’t tell that to SAFC who will have no fear and nothing to lose against a team they have already defeated once this season. The Monarchs are playing great, however, as they have done most of the season. They have only lost one of their six matches since facing San Antonio in July.
Things feel good again for San Antonio FC after taking down their biggest rival and we really wouldn’t be surprised if San Antonio pulls the sweep in Utah. They certainly found magic in this fixture last season with McCarthy’s late winner. But there are too many intangibles aligned against San Antonio for us to pick it. We think Monarchs will find a way to win a hard-fought, close game.
No matter how it turns out, enjoy your holiday weekend, folks!
San Antonio FC – 1
Real Monarchs – 2
SAFC “Did you Know?”
SAFC Midfielder Omar Gordon led the team with six shots in the club’s 2-1 win at Real Monarchs on 9/2/17, matching his record of most individual shots in a single match for the season.