After becoming the first team to miss the postseason as defending USL Championship Title holder, Real Monarchs SLC is looking to rebound in a big way in 2021. | Photo courtesy Real Monarchs SLC
After reaching the mountaintop in 2019 by becoming only the second MLS-operated club to win the USL Championship Final, changes in personnel and squad restrictions on player movement saw Real Monarchs SLC return to earth with a bump last year. The first defending title-winner to fail to reach the playoffs will be hoping a new injection of talent can spur it back toward postseason contention.
The Monarchs will have to do so without former captain Jack Blake, who made the move to San Diego Loyal SC this past offseason, while Joe Gallardo departed for Liga MX side Queretaro FC. The side did retain a notable veteran presence in defender James Moberg, but it’s the incoming crop of young talent that may grab most of the attention this season.
The Monarchs have looked from within the Championship and overseas to rebuild their squad, adding former Tampa Bay Rowdies winger Malik Johnson and former Rio Grande Valley FC defender Kyle Adams in domestically, while also adding 20-year-old Colombians Juan Vidal and Brayan Gomez to try and help boost their attack. Finding the spark that fueled the club’s title run could be a challenge in what looks like a tough division, but Real should be up for the challenge.
Malik Johnson, Winger: Johnson’s skill and speed was a major asset to Tampa Bay’s 2020 success
Ibrahim Bancé, Midfielder: Burkina Faso U-20 international arrives on loan for the season
Max Mata, Winger: 20-year-old has made his senior international debut for New Zealand
Kyle Adams, Defender: Former Toros center back brings 61 games of Championship experience
Jack Blake: Signed with San Diego Loyal SC
Ryan Sierakowski: Signed with New England Revolution II
Joe Gallardo: Signed with Queretaro FC
Canadian winger Malik Johnson arrives at Real Monarchs SLC having impressed during the past two seasons with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
Malik Johnson, Winger
Possessing a great combination of speed and footskills, there were plenty of highlight-reel moments for Malik Johnson with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. During the 2020 season, he completed 34 dribbles in 10 appearances at a 64.2 success rate as opposing defenders had to be wary of the danger he posed, typically coming of the right flank. As he arrives at the Monarchs, the 22-year-old Canadian should have more opportunities for starters minutes, which could mean a whole lot more excitement in the upcoming year.
Sam Brown, Midfielder
One of the Monarchs’ returnees, Sam Brown appeared in every game of the 2020 season for the side and was named its team MVP at the end of the season. A 25-year-old native of Michigan, Brown will have to serve as the experienced head in the middle of what appears set to be a young lineup once again, taking over the role that Jack Blake held as captain during his time in Salt Lake City.
Real Monarchs SLC Head Coach Jamison Olave is aiming to return his side to postseason contention after a disappointing 2020 campaign. | Photo courtesy Real Monarchs SLC
Jamison Olave (3rd Season)
The challenges posed by the loss of potential key performances from Real Salt Lake’s First Team squad and a lack of scoring punch proved too big to overcome for Head Coach Jamison Olave as he looked to replicate his success of 2019. Finding a way to rebuild a cohesive unit after the departure of some key figures is also going to be a big task as the Monarchs look to return to postseason contention.
8 After making Zions Bank Stadium a fortress since it opened on April 20, 2018 – losing only four times in the regular season between the 2018 and 2019 campaigns – the Monarchs suffered eight home defeats in the 2020 campaign alone to help sink their playoff hopes. Returning to their former glory on home turf is going to be a big key to Real’s turnaround this year.