Analyzing Monterey Bay FC’s expansion journey from huge losses to the playoff hunt

Quick Hits
  • Earlier this season, Monterey Bay FC found that life as an expansion team in the USL Championship is rarely easy
  • Despite their rough start to 2022, Frank Yallop’s team has rebounded into the Western Conference playoff race
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Life comes at you fast as an expansion team in the USL Championship – and Monterey Bay FC learned that lesson the hard way in their debut match back in March. 

By halftime, Monterey trailed by four goals to Phoenix Rising. The opening weeks of the season were filled with similar drubbings. A six-goal loss to San Antonio and five-nothing rout in El Paso captured the challenges of a turnover-prone team that would lose six of their first seven matches.

Things began to improve in June, though, and Monterey haven’t looked back since then: they’re now in the playoff hunt and have salvaged a respectable season from a truly brutal beginning. Let’s look at the factors behind Monterey’s turnaround.

A new stadium, roster build

One major factor behind the expansion club’s newfound form is the completion of Cardinale Stadium, the club’s home venue. 

After starting the year with a seven-match road trip, Monterey Bay have 26 points in 15 home matches, which is good for fifth in the Western Conference based on home form. Their home attendance sits right around 4,000.

Setting the stadium aside, manager Frank Yallop deserves credit for building a competitive roster and instilling a smart tactical approach. The veteran coach, best known for his stints with the San Jose Earthquakes, relied on veteran defenders and familiar faces to provide the core for his starting eleven.

Hugh Roberts, a former all-league center back, and Kai Greene, a core piece of Oakland’s playoff-qualifying expansion team in 2021, are rocks at the center of Monterey’s system. If we set aside the opening stretch of away games, they have conceded just 1 goal per match, a mark that would rank seventh overall in the USL Championship. Greene and Roberts each missed time during that stretch, but they’ve shouldered the load for a team that’s used four starting goalkeepers this year.

Five players on Monterey’s squad played under Yallop as the coach or general manager in the past. Mobi Fehr, a stalwart defensive midfielder, and Grant Robinson, a left back, knew Yallop from his time coaching the Las Vegas Lights and both have more than 20 starts this year. Arun Basuljevic and Seku Conneh, two rotation pieces who were key to early-season stabilization, were acquired by Fresno FC with Yallop as the general manager.

Smart tactics

By and large, the club uses a 4-4-1-1 shape defined by light pressure, tight defensive structure, and breakneck counterattacking. Monterey don’t spend much time on the ball: they’re third-from-bottom in the USL in possession and they’re top-three in long passing frequency. With the aforementioned defensive framework in place, Yallop’s unit started to click midway through the 2022 campaign as a direct, fast-paced transition offense.

Sam Gleadle and Chase Boone have been crucial in that approach. Boone, a winger who barely appeared for San Diego Loyal in 2021, was a day-one starter for Monterey and is the team’s joint top-scorer. Gleadle, a veteran fullback who Yallop converted into a potent forward, matches Boone with seven goals this year. He also has four goals in his last three games for the red-hot club. Both are quick, smart runners, and powerful dribblers, and their potent scoring is enabled by Christian Volesky’s hold-up play. Volesky is a classic No. 9 acquired midseason, and he recently bagged his 50th career USL goal. 

With their system in place and a starting eleven settled, Monterey have won seven of their last ten matches, climbing from the basement of the Western Conference into ninth place, one spot and one point out of the playoffs. No team in the league is hotter right now and Monterey still have games in hand on every team in the West. Finding the right mix of experience and spark is a tall task for any expansion team, but Yallop trusted the process, made the right tweaks, and is benefiting from it. 

Even if they miss the playoffs, Monterey Bay FC have established both a framework for success in the future and a roadmap for other expansion clubs in the USL.