When: Saturday, November 4th at 7:30 PM CT
Where: Children’s Mercy Park
Who: Swope Park Rangers (#4) vs. OKC Energy FC (#6)
What: Western Conference Finals
For the second straight year the Swope Park Rangers have finished fourth in the Western Conference with the promise of hosting just a single playoff game. And for the second straight year, they have hosted three consecutive playoff games by way of upsets happening to the top three seeds.
This time, they will face the sixth seeded Oklahoma City Energy FC, who are coached by former Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen. The Energy are on fire too as they come to town riding a six-game unbeaten streak. Already in the playoffs they have upset the second and third seeds. First they beat #3 Reno 1868 and last weekend they defeated #2 San Antonio FC.
To top it all off, they beat the Swope Park Rangers back on October 8th by a score of 4-1. But that was a very different Rangers team. Due to heavy squad rotation and Sporting KC calling many players up to the first team, the team was depleted. Also, that game was played in Oklahoma.
Saturday’s match-up will mark the 4th meeting between the clubs this year. The home side has gotten the better of each match as OKC won the most recent match in October but SPR won the season opener 3-1 back on March 25th and won again on September 23rd by the score of 2-0.
One possible difference maker for Oklahoma is forward Jose Angulo who came over on loan from St. Louis FC in July and has scored seven times and added five assists in the last six games regular season games. That brings his goal total to 15, the same amount SPR standout Kharlton Belmar has scored this year.
Statistics (Regular Season)
Swope Park: Kharlton Belmar (14), Nansel Selbol (9), Lebo Moloto (7), Mark Anthony Gonzalez (5), Kevin Oliveira (3)
OKC Energy: Jose Angulo (15), Danni Konig (11), Miguel Gonzalez (8), Hugh Dixon (7)
Swope Park: Christian Duke (7), Kevin Oliveira (5), Lebo Moloto (4), Felipe Hernandez, Pasher, Colton Storm (3)
OKC Energy: [USLSoccer.com seems to have removed the regular season assist numbers. Bummer]
Swope Park: 37
OKC Energy: 42
I made several attempts to reach people familiar with OKC to get a contribution to this story, but I was unsuccessful. I’m sure they will start eleven players.
As for Swope Park, there are tons of options on the table. As we’ve discussed before, since just before the start of this season, six SPR players have signed contracts with Sporting KC. Now that SKC are eliminated from the playoffs, there are no reason all of them (Amer Didic, Tyler Pasher, Adrian Zendejas, James Musa, Kevin Oliveira and Belmar) won’t be available.
In addition players like Cameron Iwasa, Erik Palmer-Brown and Colton Storm are all eligible to be loaned to SPR since they have all exceeded the minimum five games played with the team in the regular season. Obviously Iwasa is rarely used and likely will continue that. He’s likely to be gone from SKC entirely in the offseason.
At the same time, the Rangers have looked pretty good without all the SKC loanees so it’s possible they don’t tinker too much. Storm, Musa, Didic, Zendejas, Pasher and Belmar probably will all start again, as they did last week. It’s possible Kevin Oliveira is saved for the bench (if at all) since Felipe Hernandez has played well. The real question is do they stick EPB next to Didic or go with Dakota Barnathan, Oumar Ballo or Liam Doyle, who have all seen time at center back. They love trophies in KC, so it seems EPB would give them the best chance to win and it’d be possibly the last chance to use him before he goes to Manchester City.
As for picking a winner. The home team keeps finding a way in this series and Swope Park would love to get back to the USL Cup in only their second year of existence. Interestingly, the two conference final games feature three of the four teams that made it this far last year. If SPR win and New York Red Bulls II pull off their third straight upset then we’ll have a rematch of the 2016 final. Except this one would be at home.
Prediction: 2-1 Swope Park Win
Come on you Rangers!