HERRIMAN, Utah – If there was anyone who could relate to the emotions running through Real Monarchs SLC defender Erik Holt’s head as he ended up at the bottom of a dogpile after scoring in the 120th minute of the Western Conference Final of the 2019 USL Championship Playoffs, it was his Head Coach.
Having scored 17 goals during his playing career in Major League Soccer, former legendary Real Salt Lake center back Jamison Olave knew exactly how Holt was feeling.
“I scored a couple goals when I was playing,” said Olave with a smile. “The whole week you train to defend, so it’s a special moment in the game if you see Erik Holt or any center back score. When they score – because we’re not used to that – we don’t know how to celebrate. I feel very happy for center backs when they score.”
Olave certainly wasn’t the only one celebrating. With a penalty shootout coming into view for the Monarchs after dogged resistance by El Paso Locomotive FC over the final hour of regulation and extra time following a red card to Locomotive FC defender James Kiffe in the 52nd minute, it looked as though the hosts were going to have to try their luck from the penalty spot.
That’s not necessarily a situation you want to go into against Locomotive FC goalkeeper Logan Ketterer, who had led Championship goalkeepers with four saves on the six penalty kicks he had faced this season.
But Ketterer was helpless to keep out Holt’s third goal of the season, a floating header off a corner kick from the right by Noah Powder that drifted just inside the left post and sent every Monarchs player, coach, staff member and fans around Zions Bank Stadium into wild celebrations.
“I can’t even put it into words, to be honest with you,” said Holt. “This team has gone through a lot this year. I think at one point we were in 14th place and for us to come back as a team, I’m just so proud of the team and how we fought all season. It’s not about me, it’s about the group. I’m super happy for the group right now, and I can’t wait for the Championship.”
Real Monarchs SLC celebrates with the USL Championship Western Conference Title-Winners trophy after securing a 2-1 victory after extra time against El Paso Locomotive FC. | Photo courtesy Harley Warrick / Real Monarchs SLC
It had been a day for center backs, even before Holt’s heroics for the hosts. Andrew Fox had put El Paso ahead in first-half stoppage time with a low finish after Real was unable to properly deal with a free kick from deep in the right corner, while the Monarchs’ Kalen Ryden provided the response for the hosts early in the second half to even things up.
The goal was Ryden’s ninth since joining the Monarchs prior to the 2018 season, showing off the keen eye for goal the center back has proven to have when called on at set pieces.
“Those boys are like strikers in the box,” said Monarchs midfielder Jack Blake. “Kalen turned to me when we got the free kick, and said, ‘Shall we put it in the box?’ and I said, ‘Yes, of course.’ They’re lethal in the box. The chance that he got wasn’t an easy chance. Kalen took his chance really well and Holt showed such determination to win that header.”
That sort of determination will be needed if the Monarchs are to round out their remarkable postseason run with a victory in the USL Championship Final. While Real was performing its last-minute heroics on home turf, defending title-holder Louisville City FC was showing its mettle to advance to a third consecutive title game as it battled past Indy Eleven in similarly dramatic style.
Having come through on the road against Phoenix Rising FC as well as Saturday’s test against a well-drilled Locomotive FC side, though, the Monarchs have their sights set on adding to their 2017 Regular Season title next Sunday night.
“The job’s half done,” said Blake. “We want to go and represent the West really well. That’s our goal. We’re already talking and thinking about next week. If there’s any proof in the pudding of the strength and character of the team, we’re already concentrating on next week.”