Swope Park Rangers had a dominate performance in their match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 last weekend. They will look to build off of this impressive win by trying to get their first points on the road this season in brand new H-E-B Park against Rio Grande Valley FC. The Rangers are four spots ahead of RGV, but only by three points. This game on Saturday could prove crucial in a Western Conference that is very tight in spots three through eight.
Swope Park Rangers
SPR had a dominating performance against the Vancouver Whitecaps 2 last week. What really stuck out was how well the back line bounced back after allowing six in the two games prior, but Coach Popovic will be forced to shake things up on Saturday. Erik Palmer-Brown will be on international duty with the U-20’s and will be missing this game so what the back line looks like could be interesting.
This could be an opportunity for Popovic to give youngster Wan Kuzain Wan Kamaal another start and move James Musa to center back. While this allows a Sporting KC academy product to get some much needed minutes it’s really been a luxury to have a monster like Musa in the midfield.
Another option would allow Musa to stay in the midfield and allow either Oumar Ballo or Dakota Barnathan to get the nod. Both Ballo and Barnathan have struggled to find time with EPB being on loan from SKC, and this could really be their opportunity to grab hold of a position that could likely be open for most of May and maybe even part of June.
Another question is if Mark Anthony Gonzalez have even more competition for his spot at center forward? Kharlton Belmar scored again last Saturday (Belmar now leads SPR with four goals this season), continuing his streak of scoring in every game he has started. MAG had missed time last week but isn’t on the injury report this week.
Lebo Moloto earned himself a USL Team of the Week selection after scoring and assisting in the game against Whitecaps 2. Moloto has shown well in his few games sliding into the midfield late on in games, but really put in a shift against Vancouver. Tireless pressure and his ability to hold on to ball with beautiful bits of skill rather than brute force was something that SPR really haven’t had up top. I would not be shocked at all if he is given another start after such a great display.
Sporting KC Loans
There have been no new loans announced so it would appear that the current players are sticking around (though a loan recall can happen at any moment). Adrian Zendejas has started most of the home games in net so it’ll be interesting to see if he travels with the team.
Colton Storm, Sporting Kansas City’s first round SuperDraft pick, has started every game this year at right back and likely will continue to get most of those minutes. At the other fullback spot has been Tyler Pasher, who will likely continue to start, though he has often come off early for Parker Maher.
Cameron Iwasa is a possibility up top for SPR but he hasn’t been impressive so far in 2017. With SPR being on the road it seems unlikely any other players will join the club with SKC already off in Orlando.
Rio Grande Valley FC
The Toros opened a brand new stadium, H-E-B Park at the beginning of the season. It truly is something to be admired not only for teams that are affiliated with MLS clubs but for all teams in USL. That being said they haven’t exactly made it a fortress quite yet with a record of 2-2 at home.
Ruben Luna will lead the side up top. Luna isn’t the tallest but is strong and will look to frustrate whoever is at center back by any means necessary. Luna may only have one goal so far this season but he had a goal last year when SPR hosted the Toros.
Luna is not the only familiar face that SPR will need to look after. Charlie Ward, an English center mid, signed again with the Toros after a 2016 season in which he played every minute of the season. Ward, a former Aston Villa and Stoke City academy player, has been an intricate piece to their midfield this season and last. Posting an incredible 90% passing rating overall and 81% in the opponents half so far in 2017 it will be Christian Duke and James Musa’s job to cut down the amount of time he has on the ball.
If the Rangers come away with a point on the road I think fans would have to be satisfied. The fact that SPR will be shaking up a back line that has played the last four games really has to be a concern. Offensively I think SPR will be fine, it’s that back line that really scares me.
The game will start at 7:30pm CT and can be viewed by clicking on this link.