HERRIMAN, Utah – With a seven-game winless streak hanging over Real Monarchs SLC’s heads as it entered Wednesday night’s contest with OKC Energy FC, the need to start building momentum ahead of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs was at the forefront of everyone in the locker room’s minds in the buildup to the contest.
After notching two goals to lead the hosts to a 2-1 victory at Zions Bank Stadium, Sebastian Saucedo helped lift the weight from the club’s shoulders a little with dazzling pair of finishes that saw the hosts get back to the sort of attacking soccer that had put them in contention for first place in the Western Conference through the first three-quarters of the season.
“Personally, I’m super happy that I scored the two goals, but most important is the three points and the team win. We needed it,” said Saucedo. “We all reflect this back to [Monarchs Head Coach Jameson] Olave and the coaching staff, they deserve it. No one as a coaching staff wants to lose seven games. They do all that’s possible for us to win and tonight was the night and I’m happy for us.”
The Monarchs’ recent downturn, especially at home where they had accumulated 11 consecutive victories prior to a three-game winless streak at Zions Bank Stadium, had seen the goals dry up somewhat, but Saucedo brought an end to that with a brilliant volleyed finish set up by a cushioned header from Chandler Hoffman to the top of the penalty area that left Energy FC goalkeeper Cody Laurendi with little chance as it flew into the top-left corner.
The second was also the result of a tremendous piece of build-up play three minutes into the second half that Saucedo was himself part of, taking a pass from Charlie Adams and quickly moving it on to Sebastian Velasquez before moving into the penalty area. Velasquez’s pass to the right was met by a first-time cross from Maikel Chang that picked out Saucedo perfectly for a low finish.
Real Monarchs SLC's Sebastian Saucedo gets congratulated by teammates after the first of his two goals that led the side past OKC Energy FC on Wednesday night. | Photo courtesy Real Monarchs SLC
The performance was the Monarchs’ first in which it recorded multiple goals on home turf since its last win on August 25 against the LA Galaxy II, and the hosts could have had more as they racked up a 19-8 shots advantage on Energy FC, but doing enough to get back in the win column and restore some belief in the squad was the most important thing to Saucedo and his teammates on the night.
“The main thing is to get the rhythm once again heading towards playoffs,” said Saucedo. “We’re capable of knowing what team we are and the type of players we have and the quality that we have, we’re able to make things happen in the playoffs, we just really wanted a better seed heading into them.”
The road to a home playoff game, however, remains out of the Monarchs’ control after Reno 1868 FC’s victory against the Portland Timbers 2 later in the night on Wednesday. With two games remaining, 1868 FC would overtake Real with victories in both. The good news for the Monarchs is those two games come on the road against the top two teams in the Western Conference, Phoenix Rising FC and Orange County SC, which certainly offers hope that Reno will drop points and open the door for Real to clinch a home game in the Western Conference Quarterfinals when it visits Fresno FC on October 13.
Whether or not the Monarchs open the postseason at home or on the road, though, taking victory in their regular-season home finale lifted the clouds and offered hope that there is the potential for a run at the USL Cup within the side.
“I said to the players ‘every team has a bad moment.’ We had that bad moment just before the playoffs,” said Monarchs Head Coach Jameson Olave. “Having a two or one games going into the playoffs to get stronger mentality, it’s why we played that way. We tried to win and we won, to get that confidence back that we had in the beginning of the season.”