After topsy-turvy season, Monarchs play host to Orange County in USL playoff opener

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Real Monarchs coach Jamison Olave is a former longtime defender for Real Salt Lake.

There was a point this season when the Real Monarchs were in danger of missing the playoffs. From late April through the entire month of May, the Monarchs went through a stretch of five consecutive winless games.

The season also saw head coach Martín Vazquez leave less than one full season into this new gig. Jámison Olave took his place on an interim basis.

Despite a topsy-turvy season, the Monarchs finished fourth in the Western Conference of the United Soccer League Championship and made the playoffs for the third consecutive season. They will play Orange County SC on Saturday at Zions Bank Stadium at 1 p.m.

The result left the club's front office elated that it reached the primary goal it set at the start of the season.

“It was a massive year and they really put in the the work to get here,” Monarchs general manager Dan Egner said. “I think more than any other that we’ve made the playoffs, this is a pretty big accomplishment for these guys. We couldn’t be prouder of them and we can’t give them enough credit for what they’ve done this year.”



Where • At Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman

When • Saturday, 1 p.m.

But making the playoffs this year wasn’t really about this year. It’s really about building a team of professionals that not only can compete at the USL level, but also eventually make a first-team roster for Real Salt Lake.

That’s the message the front office gave to the 2019 crop of players during the preseason: secure a first-team contract with or RSL or another club, and help the Monarchs win games.

Egner said the past few years, roster building has gotten smarter. The Monarchs know there will be players signed to RSL contracts that will need minutes on the USL side. And they know there will be USL players who need time on the field as an assessment for whether they can one day make RSL.

As of right now, Egner said there are a couple of players on the Monarchs this year who have a very good chance of making a first-team roster, maybe even with RSL.

Egner also said the coaching staffs for both teams have figured out the “sweet spot” for when RSL players train with the Monarchs and vice versa.

“Each year it gets better, but this year we really are happy with where things have gone and progressed,” Egner said.

There have been several players from RSL who have made multiple appearances for the Monarchs this season. Some of those names include Tate Schmitt, Erik Holt, Luke Mulholland, David Ochoa, Justin Portillo, Douglas Martinez and Julian Vasquez.

While Egner did not go into specifics about which of those players will be available against Orange County on Saturday, he did say there was a possibility that multiple of those players will be available for selection.

“All of the guys who have been a part of this team and who are eligible for players are 100 percent bought in to the cause and to wanting to contribute and to help this team win,” Egner said of the RSL players who have spent time with the Monarchs. “They want to win. It’s refreshing. They’re all in on this playoff push and they have been for the last two months. It’s been really fun to see.”

Egner said the game against Orange County will be difficult, but the Monarchs did beat them on Oct. 9 at home by a score of 2-0.

This is the playoffs however, and the team is cognizant of what a win on that stage will mean.

“I think our guys are really looking to get that playoff monkey off their back and get that first victory,” Egner said.