Monarchs lose in USL playoff quarterfinals to Sacramento

Sandy • Chandler Hoffman need to make his penalty kick in the fourth round of the shootout, or the Real Monarchs’ historic season would come to an end in the first round of the USL playoffs.

It was thanks to his PK in regulation time that the Monarchs had even gotten to a shootout with Sacramento Republic FC. But this time, Hoffman watched Republic FC goalkeeper Evan Newton knock his shot away.

“We felt we had the team to win the championship this year,” Hoffman said. “And so the hard part is it’s done now. The season’s over, and its one of those things that you can look and learn, but at the end of the day this group will probably not be together again. This was our chance to win the championship, and it’s one that we’ll have to look back with regret.”

After a 1-1 draw at the end of regulation and two scoreless extra time periods, Sacramento Republic FC beat the Monarchs 3-1 in penalty kicks to advance to the semifinals.

The Monarch’s accomplishments this season included claiming the USL regular season championship, setting a club record with 20 wins, and setting a new high mark for winning streak in the league (10 games).

“Devastated,” Monarchs coach Mark Briggs said of his feelings upon the end of the season. “Football’s a cruel game at times, and it was cruel then.”

As a match between the Western Conference No. 1 seed and No. 8 seed, Friday’s game was not expexcted to be so close. The Real Monarchs clinched the USL regular season championship two weeks before playoffs began, while Sacramento limped into the last playoff spot with a 13-12-7 record. RSL had beaten Sacramento 2-0 in the teams’ previous two meetings.

The Monarchs needed a 86th-minute penalty kick to force the game into extra time. The penalty kick was set up by Monarchs defender Max Lachowecki drawing a foul in the box after pushing up on the attack. Sacramento midfielder Agustin Cazarez brought Lachowecki down, and Chandler Hoffman’s PK went straight into the right side of the net as Republic FC goalkeeper Evan Newton dove the other way.

Before Hoffman’s goal, Sacramento led 1-0 for nearly 40 minutes, after going up on a goal by midfielder Luis Espino in the 49th minute. Republic midfielder Villyan Bijev played a pass forward into the box and Wilson Kneeshaw lunged to keep the ball in play and sent it across the front of the goal, where Espino one-timed the cross into the top of the net.

The scoreless first half, which was characterized by just two shots on goal, provided some drama of its own.

The Monarchs missed on a chance in the 14th minute, as Hoffman got his head on a long ball into the box and put it across the net. Juan Mare was making a far post run and tried to hit it on the bounce, but the ball went off a defender and over the net.

Monarchs defender Taylor Peay then stopped a dangerous goal-scoring opportunity for Sacramento in the 34th minute. Bijev played a through ball to Kneeshaw, who took two touches in the box before Peay closed in and tackled the ball from Kneeshaw’s feet before he got a shot off.