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Real Salt Lake: Close relationship with RSL helps propel Monarchs to the top of USL

Published July 13, 2017 3:55 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Real Monarchs' locker room is just a few paces away from Real Salt Lake's. That's how close MLS feels to the members of RSL's USL affiliate.

"For [the young guys] to be able to visualize that it's only a door away down the hall to be able to get to the first team I think is great," veteran midfielder Sebastian Velasquez said.

The Monarchs (14-2-1, 43 points) have ridden that motivation to the top of the standings in the first half of the season, enjoying an eight-point lead over second place.

"I don't think we could have drawn up a better start to the season," striker Chandler Hoffman said. "So it gives us a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence going into the second half of the season."

The Monarchs already have set a USL record for consecutive wins (nine) and are undefeated (9-0) at home this season. Hoffman claimed the team's single-season scoring record with his 10th goal last week then added to it Saturday with a goal in the Monarchs' 4-1 win against Seattle Sounders FC 2.

The USL squad started the season with Mike Petke at the helm before he was promoted to RSL coach at the end of March. Former assistant coach Mark Briggs replaced Petke with the Monarchs, and he's taken a similar approach, which has made for a smooth transition.

"I think that's really important, especially for a second team to be playing the way a first team plays," Briggs said. "Me and Mike have very, well, identical philosophies on how we want to play the game. Which is very good because if ever my players do get an opportunity to go up, and when we get players moving down, it's easy to implement them into the system."

Members of Briggs' squad have varied backgrounds in the sport. Hoffman, former RSL midfielder Velasquez, captain Nick Besler and defender Taylor Peay all bring MLS experience to the team.

"I think finding that balance of experienced players and then also young, eager players that want to learn, that's kind of the key to building a successful USL team," Hoffman said.

The Monarchs seem to have struck that balance perfectly.

Their attack has the best shot conversion rate in the league (22 percent), and it's tied with Reno 1868 FC for the most goals (40).

In addition to Hoffman's goal-scoring prowess at the point and Velasquez's team-high six assists, the Monarchs have nine other players with multiple goals and four with more than one assist.

"We like to keep the ball a lot, obviously," Besler said, "but we're a very good counter-attacking team because we've got some pace up top, and then we have some really creative players when they have the ball at their feet."

On the defensive end, the Monarchs are in the top quarter of teams with the fewest goals conceded (17).

Being an affiliate of RSL has its advantages. The Monarchs play and train in the same facilities as RSL, have access to the same treatments and work with some of the same staff members.

"I think that's what all these young guys are seeing, that right now they're basically in an MLS sort of environment," Velasquez said. "… They see it and they visualize it, and I'm a true believer that if you can visualize success then at some point you will be able to reach it."

One of the few glaring atmospheric differences Velazquez identified was crowd size. The Monarchs average 2,089 fans, which is nowhere near MLS numbers but not bad for the league.

"We're a second team to an MLS team," English midfielder Charlie Adams said. "In England, you go to a reserve team game, and there's just a man and his dog there."

Monarchs players also got the rare experience of playing for the would-be first-team coach to start the season.

Petke's mark still is on the team, and he said he has enjoyed seeing their success so far.

"It was something that I was a part of for two months, in the early processes," Petke said. "So it's something that's dear to my heart, and it's been great to watch, absolutely."

Petke's familiarity with the Monarchs makes the first team feel all that much closer.

They see him at training, notice his tweets about the USL affiliate and hear his interviews referencing their success.

"The one thing that I noticed very early on and still notice now is that there is a big jump from USL to MLS," Petke said. "Having said that, we have a number of quality players down there that, it's up to them, honestly.

"It's up to them. There's nothing that's going to be given here. It doesn't matter if they win 25 games in a row, what matters is that they're improving on a daily basis and they're doing the things that we expect them to do to improve themselves. And when we see that improvement, those are the players that could have the opportunity to move up."

RSL has a track record of promoting from within. It carries eight academy products on its current roster.

An open roster spot on RSL could provide an opportunity for a call-up from the Monarchs as the front office makes roster adjustments during the summer transfer window.

"It's been good for the players now that they have a first-team coach that knows them well," Briggs said. "It gives them that little bit of confidence, that little bit more belief, that they can make it down the other end of the corridor."






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