The Orange County Blues begin a home-and-away set against a brand new foe, Real Monarchs SLC, on Saturday at Anteater Stadium in Irvine. The opponent, owned by Real Salt Lake, have struggled in their inaugural season, and appear to be the only team that are truly out of the Western Conference playoff picture at this point in the season. Still, you never know when you play a new team, and it should be an interesting test for the Blues.
To get us ready for Saturday's game and tell us a little more about the Monarchs, we welcome back Matt Montgomery of SB Nation blog RSL Soapbox, who's been covering the MLS and USL teams alike this season. Thanks very much to Matt for taking the time to answer my questions!
The Goat Parade asks RSL Soapbox:
1. Real Monarchs are adrift at the bottom of the Western Conference standings at the moment. What accounts for the new team's struggles so far this season?
I wish I could just rattle off a list of things — headed, perhaps, by "we're a new team," but I really can't. But if I'm to take a stab at it anyway, there's a stark lack of veteran players for Monarchs, and a lot of the team's problems — dropping points when in the lead, losing games they should have drawn — are things that helps explain. It's all a little puzzling, because this team seems like it should be stronger, and it seems like they should be scoring more. But as a developmental effort, a lot of these players are coming along really well, and they're starting to really show some quality in build-up play and in creation.
They'll dribble circles around teams and look incredibly talented on the ball, but sometimes, they just don't have everything. They'll get there, and I don't think there's anything endemic about the roster that would explain the lack of quality in results.
2. I'm intrigued by forward Max Rauhofer. The Uruguayan was signed by the USL team, and seems to be part of much of Monarchs' success so far. Is he a player who's found his level in American soccer, or could we see him make the move up to the MLS side in the future?
I've speculated that Rauhofer was signed partly as a scouting effort for Real Salt Lake — a long-term project, maybe. His finishing isn't perfect, but he's scored some important goals already and looks particularly fired up basically all the time. Whether that means he's suited for moving up is hard to say at this point, but he's probably not significantly better than any of the first team's options right now.
It's worth noting that his scuffles with opposing defenders seem to be growing in frequency, and we've seen them now in friendlies, too — once against the Real Salt Lake under-18s in a friendly, and once against local university BYU's PDL team.
3. What's the reception of Real Monarchs been in the local community? The club seems to be promoting them a little more than most of the MLS-owned USL teams, but is that showing up in recognition and actual support?
The reception has been a little mixed — Monarchs aren't quite drawing the attention of a lot of the RSL die-hards, which is surprising, but that seems to be growing. I think the team might have expected a more enthusiastic response (and they were probably right to, given how excited everyone seemed to be at their announcement), but those early struggles seem to be improving. The team has already drawn about 12,000 once, and while there was almost certainly a promotional aspect that created that, actually getting people into the stadium is a great way to keep the ball rolling. Once they have their own stadium, maybe Monarchs supporters will grow a little more organically, but that remains to be seen.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!