Gutsy… Valiant… Gritty… Feisty… Determined… Heroic…
There may not be enough adjectives to describe the Swope Park Rangers victory over Orange County Blue FC to advance to the USL Western Conference Final. Goals by Mark Anthony Gonzalez and Dane Kelly were only part of the victory for the Rangers.
The goal that the Swope Park Rangers grabbed the lead with in the 20th minute is the first example. Kris Tyrpak had driven the ball in to the Orange County end but a defender was able to knock the ball away from him. Emmanuel Appiah intercepted the clearance and passed it back in to Tyrpak who had not given up and left the defender behind. Tyrpak battled with two more defenders before the ball slipped through to Gonzalez. The rookie did not hesitate and quickly turned on the ball and put is just past another defender and the keeper for his 12th goal.
Both the Rangers and the Blues traded attacks, each counter-attacking the other through the middle portion of the game but everything went upside down for Swope Park in the 69th minute. Ever Alvarado received a straight red for his challenge from behind on Orange County’s Andrew Gray and the Rangers were reduced to 10 men.
Orange County pounced while the Rangers were reorganizing. Max Rauhofer knocked home a loose ball that the Rangers defense did not clear quickly enough and made it level at 1-1 in the 70th minute.
The next blow to Swope Park came in the 88th minute. Tommy Meyer battled with Akwafei Ajeakwa and after losing the ball stepped on him as he headed back on defense. With the Rangers down to just 9 men, they were scrambling to hold on.
Swope Park almost stole the victory in stoppage time Tomas Granitto picked out Dane Kelly through traffic in the box but Kelly’s attempt went wide to close out regulation time.
While Orange County relentlessly attacked, the Rangers created the more dangerous opportunities in extra time. Substitute Johnny Grant made a run down the right and sliced a ball into the box for Christian Duke. The Swope Park captain had made a run down the length of the field after having been down moments earlier to just miss the pass by inches.
The Rangers were not done counter-attacking, Granitto’s stiff defense cause a turnover outside his box. Nansel Selbol gathered the loose ball, dribbled, picked out Kelly making a run up the left side and played him the ball. Kelly dribbled at two defenders, turning the one in front of him and with a little space unleashed a shot from 25 yards out that bounced once and fooled the the Orange County keeper to take the improbable lead in the 105th.
“I just wanted a shot on target. I was dribbling and I knew that when I cut inside nobody was going to stop from getting a shot. Then it went in.” – Dane Kelly
Both Kelly and Selbol had opportunities to add to the lead but could not find the net again. Meanwhile the Rangers defense withstood waves of attacks.
Orange County launched ball after ball into the box and the Oumar Ballo and Amer Didic cleared ball after ball from the box. Ballo was a man on a mission to make sure nothing dropped in for a chance.
“This is our field, this is our home turf,” Ballo stated after the game. “No matter how many people we go down, we are going to try our hardest. As you saw, everyone worked as hard as they could. We left everything on the field and the victory was well deserved.”
“The goal was not to let it go into the net,” Ballo added. “I felt the first one was a little bit my fault but after that, in my head I said no more goals. Clear it out. Get a touch on it. Keep the opposition from scoring.”
Rangers head coach Mark Dos Santos was nearly overwhelmed by his team’s performance. “I don’t remember a game like this. You have to have a spirit out of this world and energy out of this world and a commitment out of this world. I told the guys before overtime that anything is possible, nothing in this world is impossible. Everything’s possible if you believe and if you give everything you have.”
“We felt that we could’ve won with two lines of four defending, but we felt Kelly had something. That’s why we have two forwards like Mark and Dane. It shows again, nobody is bigger than the team. One day Mark is going to be the difference, the other day Kelly, the other day someone else. The commitment was out of this world,” Dos Santos added.
“I don’t think many people that were here today are going to forget the spirit of these guys.” – Dos Santos