Two games. Four goals scored. One goal allowed. All six points taken. It would be hard to ask for a better start for new head coach Nikola Popovic and the Swope Park Rangers. Despite the good start there are still areas of opportunity for the club. The season is only five days old, but lets take a look at some things that are standing out through two games.
Through three games for Sporting Kansas City the lineup hasn’t really changed. The starters have been the same and only three players have made substitute appearances. For the Rangers it’s looked a bit different. They have played 18 players over two games. Seven of those players were loaned down from SKC. There is a mix of SKC players, USL veterans and SKC Academy players.
Despite all the different players in the lineup at no point have the Rangers not looked dangerous. It could be their competition, though the OKC Energy were a playoff team last season, so it seems like they are just a well oiled machine through just two games, no matter who is on the pitch.
Exciting to Watch
Even though the Swope Park Rangers are a second division team (and a B-team) they may be more exciting than their senior team compadres (at least so far). It feels like this team could score (or be scored on) at any moment. The chances to score are frequent (33 shots with nine shots on goal in two games) and thrilling.
The sad part is the attendance through two games is a combined 1,632 fans. Wednesday’s game was probably hurt by the rain (and it being a Wednesday) but that still hurts. Many of these players are the future of Sporting KC and it’s a shame no one is watching. You have to wonder if they may one day play in a city other than Kansas City so they have more well supported home games.
The Finishing Isn’t There Yet
That seems like a silly thing to say with four goals through two games (Sporting KC have two goals through three games and one was an awful own goal), but SPR are missing a lot. To reiterate that above stat of their 33 shots only nine are on goal. Nansel Selbol in particular missed quite a few good chances on Wednesday, but he’s not alone. Felipe Hernandez skied a shot over the bar when the goalie was out of position and several other players missed really good chances.
Through two games Belmar has been good for a goal in each game. Probably none sweeter than the strike against his former club Portland Timbers 2, who seem to have given up on him too quickly (he was the 2015 USL Rookie of the Year). Belmar isn’t even the starting center forward as 2016’s leading goal scorer, Mark Anthony Gonzalez, has been away on international duty so far this season.
That’s a good backup to have, but Belmar appears to be able to play on the wing too. Throughout the game with PT2 Selbol and Belmar kept switching who was playing up top. It seems like a pretty exciting prospect that MAG and Belmar could be on the field together knocking home goals.
Christian Duke is Much Improved
For those of you who have read my writing over the years, I’ve been pretty hard on Christian Duke. Last year I advocated for benching him. So far, I like what I’ve seen. In preseason he consistently was putting himself or others in dangerous positions to score. He already has an assist through two games this season and he’s nearly had additional goals and assists. Not that Duke is old but I didn’t expect him to grow so much as a player. Let’s hope it continues.
The Kids Are Alright
The Rangers have played quite a few rookies so far this season. First round SuperDraft pick for Sporting KC made his pro debut. Felipe Hernandez, Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal, Max Rugova and Dakota Barnathan all made their pro debuts as well. And their debuts have mostly gone really well as Kurt Austin pointed out on Twitter.
These guys are only likely to keep getting better as they play together more and more. The future seems bright.
EPB made his first playing appearance for a non-National team in 2017 and it started a little rough. He had a few bad giveaways that thankfully the Timbers couldn’t take advantage of but as the game went on, he got going. He may have had the defensive play of the night (outside of Felipe Hernandez header off the line) when he bailed out Adrian Zendejas who had an errant pass.
It was a shame he had to come off at the half. The broadcast indicated he had been recovering from an injury and he did go down a couple times in the first half so he may have picked up a knock.
I’m Missing Those Five Subs
For 2017 the USL season the league is trying to align with most of the other football leagues in the world who only allow three substitutions per game. Through two games I’m really missing those other two subs. SPR used up two subs on Wednesday taking out EPB and Tyler Pasher, who were working back to match fitness. That limits the chances for additional players to get some professional minutes, like Will Little III. Or last season Amer Didic started coming on as an offensive sub to head on long balls way up the field to try and create scoring opportunities. That hasn’t been needed (yet) in 2017, but it was nice having the option.