It took every single game of the 2018 USL season to make it happen but the Swope Park Rangers punched their ticket to the USL Cup Playoffs on Sunday. They hosted the LA Galaxy II at Children’s Mercy Park and laid waste to the California B-Team.
Going into the game the Rangers simply needed a draw to secure the eighth and final playoff spot in the USL Western Conference but instead they surged into seventh place by tallying five goals from five different players.
The scoring got started early with a beautiful free kick from Wan Kuzain after a fairly long delay from a Tyler Blackwood drawn foul. Eventually the ref got it right, awarded the foul and Kuzain scored his third set piece goal of the season in the 28th minute.
Shortly after that fellow Sporting Kansas City loanee Kharlton Belmar doubled the score with a 34th minute breakaway. He go in behind his fullback and slotted home his 10th goal of the season after a very long goal scoring drought.
The Galaxy did finally get going at the end of the first half with several good chances but the SPR defense and goalkeeper Eric Dick would come up large to ensure the game went into the half 2-0 in favor of Swope.
In the second half, the scoring picked up again in the 65th minute. Felipe Hernandez would draw a penalty kick at the top of the box and Hadji Barry would go on to slot it home to make it 3-0. It was Barry’s 17th goal of the season, extending the club record for goals scored in a single season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can translate that to a first team contract after the year is over.
The goals kept coming when Hernandez got one of his own after a series of passes inside the Galaxy 18-yard-box. Eventually he’d blast it by the keeper to make it 4-0 Rangers in the 76th minute.
The final Rangers goal would come from rookie Wilson Harris who replaced Barry in the 74th minute. In the 84th minute he would send a beatiful slotted shot across the keeper and off the post and in.
The shutout wasn’t to be after Galaxy sub Hernandez was hit a beautiful curler into the upper 90 to finally get Los Angeles on the board just one minute later.
After the match, first year head coach and former Sporting KC player, Paulo Nagamura weighed in on the game.
“I’m very pleased with their performance and how they responded under pressure because we had to get at least one point today and they came out very well both defensively and offensively. It was a group performance and they all came out ready to play.”
He also had a few thoughts when asked about making the playoffs for the third straight season.
“It’s important for us to be competitive. It’s important for these young players to learn how to win and experience that feeling. It was great way for us to end the regular season on such a high note. Now we head to play a tough opponent in the first round, but we like our chances.”
With the win SPR finish their third season in USL in 7th place. It is their worst finish in three season in the league after back-to-back 4th place finishes. That means they will almost assuredly have to win lots of road games to return to their third straight USL Cup. That is, unless cross state rival St. Louis FC (8th place) can also pull off a couple upsets. Then the teams could have a Missouri showdown (in Kansas) at CMP in the Western Conference Finals.
The Rangers will be back in action for the first round of the playoffs against 2nd place Sacramento Republic FC next Saturday, October 20th at 9:30 PM CT. Catch the game on ESPN+ since Sporting KC won’t play until Sunday against FC Dallas.