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Real Monarchs deny Louisville third title, win USL Championship final

The Monarchs are the first team to win the USL Championship title as the road team in the final.

Louisville City FC hosted the USL Championship Final for the third straight season Sunday, but the Boys in Purple did not end the match with the 2019 trophy in-hand.

Despite trailing early, Real Monarchs SLC tallied three unanswered goals – all of which were scored by defenders – powering them to a 3-1 win over Louisville for the USL Championship crown in front of an announced crowd of 7,025 fans at Lynn Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Monarchs are the first team to win the USL Championship title as the road team in the final.

“I’m at a loss for words right now. Nobody had us in this position except for us. I’m so proud of these guys, man,” Monarchs’ defender Kalen Ryden told ESPN after the game. “We knew we were probably going to absorb some pressure… We responded, we stayed patient and that’s who we were.”

It the first championship for the Monarchs, which began play in 2015 as an affiliate of Major League Soccer side Real Salt Lake. It’s also the first time an MLS affiliate has won the USL Championship crown since 2016, when New York Red Bulls II took home the trophy.

The Monarchs (17-10-8) scored what proved to be the game-winner in the 45th minute, just before the halftime whistle. A Monarchs’ corner kick bounced out of the box, but was collected on the left wing by midfielder Luke Mulholland, who blasted the ball back toward the Louisville goal. Waiting there was defender Konrad Plewa, who knocked the ball in with a touch off his noggin.

It was the third goal of the season for Plewa, the 27-year-old from Poland. At 6-foot-3, he’s been a threat on set pieces for the Monarchs throughout the 2019 campaign. He was awarded the MVP award for the final.

“It means everything,” Plewa told ESPN. “I wish I could hand this to the entire squad… Everyone’s the MVP here.”

Plewa wouldn’t be the only defender to put a shot in the back of the net for the Monarchs though. To equalize the game in the 25th minute, Erik Holt received a feed at the top of the box from Jack Blake and, with one touch, threaded a right-footed shot between Louisville’s diving goalkeeper and the near post.

The Monarchs padded their lead in the 66th minute, when left back Noah Powder scored on a right-footed shot from just inside the box, that settled in the lower left corner of the net. It was the third score of the season for the 21-year-old from Trinidad & Tobago.

Louisville did make a little bit of history Sunday, scoring the fastest goal in the history of the league’s championship match. Just past the five-minute mark, Magnus Rasmussen scored on a close chance, thanks to a feed from Niall McCabe.

The Boys in Purple would get off 21 shots in the match and put seven of those attempts on target, but never again found the back of the net after Rasmussen’s early score. The Monarchs remained vigilant on defense, racking up 22 tackles and 27 clearances. They also blocked eight of Louisville’s attempts.

Young goalkeeper David Ochoa shined for the Monarchs too, as the 18-year-old collected six saves and punched another shot attempt away. Ochoa, who has featured for the U.S. U-20 youth national team, also had two clearances and completed 11 passes.

There was a scuffle in the 87th minute between the two sides, after Louisville defender Speedy Williams took down Monarchs’ winger Maikel Chang with a slide tackle. Blake went after Williams and shoved him, but the skirmish was squashed by the referees and players. Williams was given a yellow card.

In all, referees whistled for 17 fouls in the match and issued three yellow cards.’

The season started off a bit bumpy for the Real Monarchs. The team began with a 6-3-6 record, and then head coach Martin Vasquez resigned. Former Real Salt Lake player Jamison Olave took the reins and led the club to the fourth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Along the way, they beat OKC Energy 6-2, bested the regular season champs Phoenix Rising FC 2-1, then topped El Paso Locomotive 2-1.

And now, they’re champions of the USL Championship.

“It sounds like a fairy-tale, honestly,” Blake told ESPN. “I’m speechless.”

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