The Swope Park Rangers (#7) went on the road to Papa Murphy’s Park in the first round of the USL Cup Playoffs to challenge the second seeded Sacramento Republic. In 2017 Sacramento traveled to Kansas City where they would fall to SPR. This time, Swope found the way to win their first ever road game in the playoffs.
The game got off to a pretty rough start for the Rangers. In the 16th minute the entirety of the back line failed to deal with a ball in the box and Sporting Kansas City loanee Amer Didic ended up trying to clear the ball under zero pressure and sent an awkward ball up into the air where Villyan Bijev received it and drove it home for the opening goal.
The Rangers struggled pretty hard after that until a corner kick in the 27th minute. The corner kick itself didn’t come off that well but the fall fell to another Sporting KC player, Wan Kuzain who would hit a delightful back heel to himself and then drive home the shot at the near post against Sacramento keeper Josh Cohen.
Just four minutes later SPR would strike again. This time with a move similar to what Matt Besler and Yohan Croizet pulled off against Vancouver on Sunday. Instead of Besler it was Rassambek Akhmatov making the run into the corner and the ball delivered back to the top of the box was driving home by Hadji Barry. It was Barry’s 18th goal on the season as he extended the club record he set earlier this year.
The game would go into the half with Swope Park up 2-1. Ultimately, the second half was a sloppy mess. SPR couldn’t possess the ball to save their life and would ultimately lose the possession battle 59 to 41. Sacramento would end up getting 13 shots off by the end of the game, but only five ended up on target. On the other hand, the Rangers took just five shots, but all of them were on target.
That would end up being the deciding factor in the end. The Rangers finished their chances more efficiently than Sacramento and they pulled off the win. It’s not a game worth going back and watching because it was officiated inconsistently, the Sacramento announcers were awful homers and it was just not what people come to expect from the “beautiful game.”
Fun fact: Josh Cohen, the Sacramento keeper, has now lost to SPR in three straight years in the playoffs. In 2016 he was the Orange County goalkeeper who allowed a late goal to Dane Kelly when Swope had just nine players to OC’s 11. In 2017 he was the keeper (this time for Phoenix Rising) who lost a shootout in KC after a game was delayed so badly by rain it had to be played the following day. And obviously, he was the goalkeeper for the Republic in this loss.
With the win, SPR will continue their road playoff games next Friday against Phoenix Rising FC. PRFC played on Friday night defeating Portland Timbers 2 by a scoreline of 3-0. Phoenix played on Friday and SPR obviously played on Saturday, so not only will they be on the road but they’ll also get one less day of rest and have a relatively quick turnaround.
Also on Saturday, St. Louis FC lost their game to #1 seeded Orange County, so Swope Park will officially have to win all their games on the road to keep advancing. In the past two seasons they have entered the playoffs as the #4 seed and the higher seeds have continued to lose to give them home games. That trend is officially over in 2018, but SPR are still alive. They’ll need to play better to keep pulling off road upsets.