SALT LAKE CITY — Real Monarchs had never played a postseason game in Louisville, let alone win a USL Championship title.
With a two-time interim manager and a roster of believers, the second-division side of Real Salt Lake did what they have never done before.
Noah Powder had a goal and an assist, and Erik Holt and Konrad Plewa each scored in the first half as Real Monarchs rallied for a 3-1 win over Louisville City FC to secure their first-ever USL Championship title Sunday night at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky.
"I'm at a loss for words. No one had us in this position, except for us. Nobody," Real Monarchs defender Kalen Ryden told ESPN after the match.
"Three games in a row, we go down a goal and just came back. That shows everything about this team. I’m so proud of this team."
Real Monarchs became the first Western Conference team to win the now-34-team league title since Sacramento in 2014, and only the second since the current iteration of the USL was founded in 2011.
Magnus Rasmussen gave two-time defending champion Louisville the early lead, scoring the earliest goal in USL Championship final history with a sixth-minute strike that put the hosts up 1-0.
"We knew we were probably going to absorb some pressure," Ryden said. "The atmosphere, they were going to come out early.
"We knew it was coming, and we responded. We knew if we just stayed patient and stuck to who we were, we knew we could come back into the game."
But Holt equalized 20 minutes later, when the center back found the back of the net from the top of the box to level the match at 1-1. Powder and Jack Blake maneuvered the ball around the area, and Holt needed just one touch to help the Monarchs come back to take a lead at halftime.
RSL midfielder Luke Mulholland, playing with the Monarchs on loan, set up the go-ahead goal in the final minutes of the half. The England-born midfield whipped in a cross that sent him tumbling, but the ball sailed toward the head of Plewa, who rose up like a salmon and notched the Monarchs’ second goal of the match for a 2-1 lead at the break.
Two goals. Two center backs. And Powder added his own score in the 66th minute to put the Monarchs up 3-1, even as Louisville pressed high to try to equalize.
"It sounds fairy tale. We were more than confident in our group," Monarchs midfielder Jack Blake said. "We knew we could come over and do the job. But to be honest, right now, I’m speechless."
Led by interim head coach and former RSL defender Jamison Olave, Real Monarchs became the first Utah side to win a United Soccer Leagues-owned league since the now-defunct Utah Blitzz won the USL Pro Select title in 2004. That was the same year the Utah Salt Ratz won the championship of the National Premier Soccer League, which is considered the fourth division of North American soccer. Both teams folded the following year.
Real Salt Lake, the club’s parent company that competes in first-division Major League Soccer, won the MLS Cup title in 2009. RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen launched the second-division side that plays at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman in 2014.