As is the habit of any coach entering a new situation, Marcelo Balboa stepped into his rebuilding project at Monarch a little more than two years ago with a firm game plan in mind.
Yet if a playing career that included three World Cup appearances six-plus seasons in Major League Soccer taught Balboa anything, it's that the best laid plans don't always come to fruition. Adjusting on the fly often is as imperative off the field as it is on the pitch, and Monarch no doubt experienced its share of pratfalls along the way under Balboa.
During his first two seasons at the helm of the Coyotes program, the club often appeared like the same old Monarch with two league wins in two seasons. Even this year, with the Coyotes' young core poised to take a dramatic step forward, injuries have taken a toll on Monarch's lineup.
So far, though, none of that has mattered in 2014, as the rapidly improving Coyotes are ready to shake off years of frustration by challenging for a playoff spot out of the rugged Front Range League.
"I think the hard part is that, like everything else, when you come in with a plan you have to deviate sometimes from it," Balboa said. "But I'm a patient guy, and we're trying to develop tradition here again. I think we've lost it over the last 10 years of what Monarch soccer is. We're trying to regain that.
"This year has been our best year so far. It hasn't all been great — we've given up some points here and there, and we've gotten lucky on a few points too — but the kids, when you watch them play, they're giving all they have. That's what's most important."
When Balboa took over prior to the 2012 season, the arrival of the former Colorado Rapids star marked the third coach in three seasons for Monarch. Yet despite instilling much-needed stability, Balboa's first two Monarch squads bore disturbing similarities to previous Coyotes teams. After going 2-10-2 in the final season of David Stansbury's tenure in 2010, followed by a 4-11 mark under Jason Cook in 2011, Balboa's first Monarch squad struggled to a 2-13 mark in 2011 that included a winless run through the Front Range League.
However, most of those young players Balboa initially leaned upon returned in 2013, improving slightly to a 5-9-1 mark overall and 2-7-1 in the league. Once again relying heavily on the same core of players in 2014, Balboa's patience, in addition to his team's perseverance, finally is paying off.
Following Tuesday's 2-0 win against Fossil Ridge, Monarch sports a 6-1-2 record overall and a 3-1-2 mark in league play. Despite a season-ending knee injury suffered by Pat Nasiatka (who doubled as the kicker for the Monarch football team) and and a potential sports hernia that currently has sidelined German exchange student Mo Klenke (who shares the team lead with five goals), the Coyotes are in position to potentially claim one of the four automatic berths for the 5A state tournament out of the Front Range League.
Or, at the very least, earn one of the 11 at-large berths for the postseason.
"We knew we had the potential, but every year when we weren't winning we had to keep pushing because we knew we could do it," senior captain Matthew Capitelli said. "We started off small, and young, but it's been the same team for the past two, two and a half years. Honestly, we've been trying to take it one step at a time."
Junior Thomas Alder shares the team lead in goals with five, but it has been defense that has spurred Monarch's resurgence. The Coyotes opened the season by posting three consecutive shutout wins and earning four clean sheets in their first five. Overall, Monarch has notched six shutouts while allowing only seven goals all season — a total the Coyotes have collected entirely in their three non-victories against Poudre (3-2 loss), Fort Collins (1-1 tie), and Loveland (3-3 tie).
Balboa and his charges also recognize the challenge of continuing the club's sizzling start will grow exponentially more difficult. Beginning Thursday against an equally improved Legacy club, Monarch battles all the Front Range League heavyweights down the stretch, including the final three games against Fairview, Boulder, and Broomfield.
If the Monarch comeback is for real, the Coyotes will certainly have every opportunity to prove it on the field.
"Ever since freshman year, Marcelo has been telling us that we're trying to build up," Alder said. "The whole team believed that and stuck through it. Together we've grown as well. Even though we were losing, we knew we were going to be better no matter what.
"It was tough freshman year only winning a couple wins. This has been a lot more fun."
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