Herriman • It’s a season of new for the Real Monarchs. A slew of new players. A new head coach.
And so far this season, all that new has taken some time to settle in. But after a dominant 5-0 win over L.A. Galaxy II on Saturday, things have started to take shape for the Salt Lake City’s United Soccer League Championship team.
The Monarchs, who qualified for the USL playoffs last season but lost in the first round, currently sit in seventh place in the Western Conference with five points. The win against Galaxy II was their first of the season after coming up with draws in the first two.
Through the first two games, the team was pleased with how well it had defended, and that continued against Los Angeles. The Monarchs are anchored by 18-year-old keeper David Ochoa, who has recorded two consecutive shutouts and made USL Team of the Week in the first two weeks of the season.
“I would say he’s the best keeper in the league,” Monarchs captain Jack Blake said.
Ochoa is second in the USL in saves with 16. Last week against El Paso, he amassed nine alone. He’s tied for first in the league with two shutouts.
REAL MONARCHS UPDATE
Who’s In: David Ochoa, Lionel Etoundi, Kyle Coffee, Sam Brown, Douglas Martinez, Luis Palma, Jordan Pena, Ricardo Avila
Who’s Out: Jake Leeker, Connor Sparrow, Andrew Putna, Chandler Hoffman, Sebastian Velasquez, Justin Portillo
Head coach: Martín Vasquez
Ochoa is just one of the many new faces that will play with the Monarchs this season. He is also one of the few under contract with RSL. Other players with RSL that seen time with the Monarchs this season are Donny Toia, Erik Holt and Tate Schmitt, all of whom started for the MLS team against LAFC because of injuries and red card suspensions.
First-team players taking the field with USL affiliates is a regular occurrence, and RSL is one of the clubs that is least shy in giving playing time to those who may not be getting it at the MLS level. Monarchs coach Martín Vasquez said that benefits everyone involved.
“It helps us because they have experience, they’re quality players,” Vasquez said. “And with young players that we have in our team, they’re surrounded by experienced, quality players. That’s gonna help.”
Vasquez joined the Monarchs this season after eight years running the RSL Academy. He said his first season as head coach has been a “work in progress,” but it appears his team is starting to take a liking to him. Blake said Vasquez does a good job of clearly outlining his expectations and are beginning to buy in to his philosophies about the game.
The players are starting to gel, too. Blake said with so many new international additions — Ricardo Ávila of Panama and Luis Palma of Honduras are two examples — the preseason was a bit of a struggle chemistry-wise. But that has since changed, he said.
“We sort of got an understanding among the group that we understand each other as players and people off the field,” Blake said. “I think it’s a really good group of lads. As a whole, we’ve got a very strong group.”
The Monarchs will be without at least Ochoa as the year heads toward summer because of his involvement in the Under-20 World Cup, which starts in May and is set in Panama. He will represent the United States for the first time on the World Cup stage.
While Ochoa is still young, it appears he could be the key to the Monarchs’ entire season. And so far, he’s relishing every opportunity, accolade and clean sheet.
“Feels good, honestly, to get recognized for playing good, especially because I’m young,” Ochoa said. “It’s kinda cool how I’m beating some of the older guys.”
March 9 at Sacramento Republic FC (D, 1-1)
March 16 vs. El Paso Locomotive FC (D, 0-0)
March 23 vs. L.A. Galaxy II (W, 5-0)
March 30 at Las Vegas Lights FC
April 6 vs. Reno 1868 FC
April 13 at New Mexico United
April 20 vs. San Antonio FC
April 26 at Austin Bold FC
May 4 vs. Fresno FC
May 18 at OKC Energy FC
May 25 vs. Phoenix Rising FC
May 29 at Portland Timbers 2
June 8 vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
June 22 at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
June 29 at Tulsa Roughnecks FC
July 6 vs. New Mexico United
July 12 vs. Seattle Sounders 2
July 20 at El Paso Locomotive FC
July 27 at San Antonio FC
Aug. 2 vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Aug. 10 vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Aug. 16 at Fresno FC
Aug. 24 at Orange County SC
Aug. 30 vs. OKC Energy FC
Sept 4 vs. Las Vegas Lights FC
Sept. 7 at LA Galaxy II
Sept. 14 vs. Portland Timbers 2
Sept. 17 at Seattle Sounders 2
Sept 21 at Rio Grande Valley FC
Sept. 28 at Reno 1868 FC
Oct. 5 vs. Austin Bold FC
Oct. 9 vs. Orange County SC
Oct. 12 at Phoenix Rising FC
Oct. 19 vs. Sacramento Republic FC