The Swope Park Rangers defeated the Oklahoma City Energy FC in a dramatic penalty shootout and became the first team in USL history to win back-to-back Western Conference Final championships. In addition to becoming the first expansion team to reach a league final in the club's first two seasons.
There was no confusion this week as to where the Rangers were to face - former Sporting KC captain and goalkeeper - Jimmy Nielsen and OKC for their second consecutive USL Western Conference Final. It was a deserved home game.
SPR started the game with a strong lineup including Sporting KC loanees: Adrian Zendejas, James Musa, Colton Storm, Tyler Pasher, Amer Didic, Kharlton Belmar and Kevin Oliveira appearing in the startling XI. The Rangers were quick to apply pressure to the visitors early in the first half.
However, the first threat came in the 27th minute, when José Angulo's attempt bounced wide of the post. Ten minutes later, Zendejas was quick to deny Johnathan Brown from the left side of the penalty area. Zendejas made a quick save on Alex Dixon's shot five minutes into the restart. Three minutes later, Moloto was denied by OKC's captain Juan Pablo Guzman.
Within moments of Nansel Selbol entering the match for Pasher in the 70th minute, Selbol shot looking to open SPR's scoring sheet, however, it is deflected by a sliding defender and narrowly missed the post.
SPR had another chance to score with Oliveira's free kick but it went ball straight into Cochran's arms. In the 87th minute, the 19-year-old academy player, Felipe Hernandez entered for Oliveira. Despite efforts from both to score, the Rangers forced OKC into extra time.
For the duration of extra time, both teams created multiple chances, although neither side could open up the scoring sheet. Two close calls came within moments of each other with the first attempt in the 118th minute when Kharlton Belmar, the team's leading scorer nearly found a goal when he raced one in and missed the post by inches. The second one attempt, Nansel fired a rocket just over the crossbar, forcing the game into penalties.
Much like Darrin MacLeod in the first round, Adrian Zendejas saved the first penalty from José Angulo. From there it was back and forth as both teams made penalties, had them saved or skied them over the bar. Swope had the chance to win on three consecutive PKs but both their shots failed to go in and OKC buried theirs.
Eventually it got to the 11th round of penalty kicks and it was goalkeeper versus goalkeeper. Adrian Zendejas would come up huge twice. First, he stopped CJ Cochran from scoring for OKC. Then Zendejas buried the final penalty to win it all (7-6) and punched SPR’s ticket to the USL Cup Final.
The Rangers will now travel to Louisville to face the Louisville City FC for the USL Final on November 13th. Full highlights below.
[Editor’s Note: There was talk at the beginning of the USL Cup Playoffs that Louisville City FC might not be able to host the finals if they made it as they don’t control their stadium. We’ll bring more on this once we get confirmation.]