Swope Park Rangers opened their season on Saturday against Oklahoma City Energy FC. SPR made some wholesale changes this offseason with Christian Duke being the only player to start both the 2016 and 2017 season openers. That being said the Rangers looked shaky during the first 15 minutes or so, but really settled in and put together a dominating performance. It might only be 90 minutes of action, but I think there are a few things that can be taken away from this match.
Daniel Salloi & Latif Blessing
Daniel Salloi and Latif Blessing along with three other players were loaned down to Swope Park Rangers prior to Saturday’s season opener.
It was Salloi’s great pressure, interception, and unselfish pass that led to an easy tap in for Blessing to give the Rangers the lead in the 62nd minute. Salloi also did a great job of finishing an exquisite though ball from Christian Duke in the 71st.
Blessing was just as dynamic as ever skittering past defenders and drawing fouls just like he did against FC Dallas. I was thoroughly impressed with Salloi’s play in this game though. Salloi has matured immensely in 12 months, but still has some room to grow.
Both players will get there minutes in spurts with Sporting KC this year, but could probably benefit more from playing 90 minutes for SPR game in and game out.
This was what I was most impressed with in this game. Felipe Hernandez put in an alright shift on Saturday. You’d like to see him get on the ball a bit more with only 19 total passes in 56 minutes, but none the less it was good for him to get his feet wet.
Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal had an excellent game in the middle of the park. He posted an incredible 52 passes in 75 minutes with a 96% completion rating. Now while this stat is great it has to be said that most of his passes tended to be along the backline or side to side, very rarely forward.
I don’t have a huge problem with that though for just his first professional appearance. Hopefully as this season wears on, and he gets more minutes under his belt, we’ll see more of an uptick from 14 passes being forward.
My favorite moment of the match had to be in the 47th minute when Wan Kamal suffers a crunching tackle from Philip Rasmussen. Immediately you see Christian Duke, Khalrton Belmar, and Kevin Ellis in Rasmussen’s face letting him know that the youngster is not to be messed with. That’s the type of thing you don’t always see at the professional level and it was nice to see the “older guys” taking care of young Wan Kamal in his debut.
This guy is a monster. Belmar is a big powerful forward who complements well with the slightly smaller Daniel Salloi and Latif Blessing on the wings.
I thought Belmar had a great couple moment of hold up play but was even more impressed with his skill on the ball. For such a big powerful guy I wasn’t expecting him to be that great on the ball but a couple times in the game he produced a great bit of dribbling skill (my favorite in the 79th when he sends the defender running down the sideline after a simple feint). Lastly it’s always great to see your striker get on the score sheet in the first game of the season.
Last year for Timbers 2 he only had three goals but the year before he led the T2 side with 12 and was named USL Rookie of the Year. If Belmar continues to play as he did on Saturday it could be apparent that maybe the Timbers gave up on him just a little too soon.
All of this being said I don’t think this is even the best lineup that we could see from Swope Park Rangers. The Rangers were without Mark Anthony Gonzalez, Amer Didic, and Kevin Oliveira. SPR’s 2016 leading goal scorer Mark Anthony Gonzalez and 2016 USL First Team defender Amer Didic are both off on national team duty with the Canadian U-23’s (the duo are also set to miss the next game as well). Kevin Oliveira, who is still recovering from that torn ACL, appears to be getting closer to returning to the field. Once he does he will only make the Rangers even more lethal in attack.
Originally I had been a little skeptical of how well Swope Park Rangers could do in this season, but with such a dominating performance in their first game maybe they could be just as good as last year (although Western Conference Champions strong may be pushing it). SPR will next take on Portland Timbers 2 this Wednesday at home, and if the Nikola Popovic’s side plays as well as they did on Saturday I don’t think they should have any problems getting another three points.
In case you missed the action the team put all the goals together in one lovely video. Enjoy!