HERRIMAN, Utah – Real Monarchs SLC’s Chandler Hoffman knew his time in the club’s colors was almost at an end, with his offseason move to Birmingham Legion FC for the 2019 USL season having been announced in July.
After the No. 4-seed Monarchs fell on home turf in the Western Conference Quarterfinals for the second consecutive postseason when No. 5-seed Reno 1868 FC took a dramatic 1-0 victory at Zions Bank Stadium, though, the standout forward left the contest feeling his time in a Real jersey had ended too soon.
“I feel like the story is cut short; it felt like this was the year,” said Hoffman. “Everyone had kind of written us off towards the end of the season and I felt we had enough quality to make a run and win a championship. That’s going to be the hard part for me, to find any positives right now because I feel the story shouldn’t be over yet.”
Forward Chandler Hoffman saw his time with Real Monarchs SLC end on Saturday as the side fell to Reno 1868 FC in the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs. | Photo courtesy Real Monarchs SLC
It was certainly a game far different to the Monarchs’ exit from the postseason a year ago when the side struggled to find the target before succumbing in a penalty shootout to Sacramento Republic FC. Instead, Real ran into a goalkeeper in the form of Matt Bersano who has hit form at the perfect time of year for 1868 FC to make a run at its first silverware.
The 26-year-old produced a six-save shutout to stymie the Monarchs attack time and again, including a crucial first-half save that kept Hoffman from opening the scoring in the 25th minute. Hoffman was denied again with 12 minutes to go by Bersano as the flag stayed down when the forward slipped in behind Reno’s defense, only for the goalkeeper to get off his line quickly enough to smother the chance.
Bersano has now recorded five shutouts in his last six games going back to Reno’s victory on September 26 against Rio Grande Valley, conceding only once while recording 19 saves over that span.
Bersano’s display kept the visitors in the game long enough for 1868 FC to grab victory in the second minute of stoppage on one of its few clear chances in the contest as Brian Brown’s flicked header proved too good for Monarchs goalkeeper Connor Sparrow.
“This is probably extra special for me,” said Brown. “This is the first playoff win for the club. But it’s also the first playoff win of my career in several tries.
“I’m so happy for the guys in the locker room who fought hard until the very end.”
In the opposing locker room there was disappointment at another season that had ended in their view prematurely, but still pride in what the group had achieved to sit in a top-four position in the Western Conference for a second consecutive year.
“I said to the players before the game, everything we did this season was great,” said Monarchs interim Head Coach Jamison Olave. “Just get out, enjoy the game and be proud of what we did this year. That’s what they did. The way they showed up in the game today made me feel proud because they put everything in to win the game. That’s soccer. Sometimes you put everything to win and you end losing like today.”
And while there certainly should be numerous members of the Monarchs back with the side as it looks to make another run at the postseason and a first playoff victory for the club in 2019, Hoffman will head back to his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama disappointed that his two-year spell at the club didn’t end on a happier note, but happy to have been part of establishing the side as a perennial contender in the Western Conference.
“It’s been such a blessing to play here the past two years,” said Hoffman. “For [Monarchs General Manager] Dan Egner for bringing me in and then [Real Salt Lake Owner] Dell Loy [Hansen] for believing in me and the coaching staff, to the training staff, to the players and especially the fans. They really made it a special place for me.
“This is where I’ve played the most games professionally, so it will always be a special place in my heart. We won the regular season championship, but I wanted to go out with a USL championship, so I feel a little disappointed I wasn’t able to do that for everyone here.”