The Swope Park Rangers had an unexpected bye week last weekend when it was rumored issues with the field at Shawnee Mission South caused the game against the OKC Energy FC to be postponed. This week, they will definitely play as they travel to Scottsdale, Arizona to take on Phoenix Rising FC.
To preview the game we get together with Mark Murray of FirebirdSoccer.net to ask them three questions and they ask us three questions. So as Cody says, three, but really six questions. (Full disclosure, I also contribute over at Firebird).
They Ask Us
Mark Murray: Kharlton Belmar has started out hot this year, what has been the key to his start and the Swope Park attack as a whole?
Chad Smith: Belmar got a first team contract late in 2017 but he’s only played six minutes with Sporting KC. Instead he’s been playing lights out in the USL in hopes of earning first team minutes. In just over a season with the Rangers he is already the team’s all-time leading scorer. As for how he’s done it? He’s a tireless worker, he’s lightening quick and he’s quite good at finishing.
MM: What weaknesses does Swope Park have that Phoenix should try to exploit?
CS: The biggest issue for Swope is their lack of cohesion as a team. They are playing wildly different lineups from game to game due to loans from the first team. Also, Gianluca Busio, the 15-year-old SKC player, who made his pro debut recently, is with the United States U-17’s this weekend. The team has also been leaking goals at a much higher rate than usual. Partly because they’ve played three keepers in five games. Also, they are a team that relies heavily on having possession and they’ve been a little sloppy with their passing this season. That could be a fatal flaw against a counter-attacking team like Phoenix. The one plus is that all levels of Sporting Kansas City’s system plays a 4-3-3 so guys do know their responsibility when they get to step in.
MM: He hasn’t seen the field yet for Phoenix but what can we expect from former Swope midfielder James Musa this season?
CS: James Musa earned a first team contract with Sporting Kansas City part of the way through 2017 but he’d only earn one start for the first team since starter Ilie Sanchez is hard to displace. That said, he was a stud for Swope Park last season. He held down the defensive midfielder position and helped lead the team to a second consecutive Western Conference Championship. I won’t be surprised if he replaces Kevon Lambert as the starting holding mid once he’s healthy and 90 minutes fit.
Lineup Prediction: Zendejas, Lindsey, Didic, Smith, Storm, Kuzain, Hernandez, Saravia, Belmar, Barry, Blackwood
Score Prediction: If Kuzain isn’t available (he just got a first team deal) and Silva replaces him, there will be too many turnovers for SKC to overcome. Last time SPR was in Phoenix it was a 4-3 thriller. I’ll say that’s what happens again without picking a winner.
We Ask Them
Chad Smith: Despite all the attacking talent on the team (Didier Drogba, Awako, Forbes, Frater, Johnson, Asante and Riggi to name a few) the team only has seven goals in five games (including four in one game). What is the explanation?
Mark Murray: I think it has come down to one thing so far this season, inconsistency from the striker position. Head Coach Patrice Carteron has kept mostly the same lineup to start the year which means Riggi and Frater have been on the outside and Drogba is just now healthy. Outside of the OKC game Chris Cortez has struggled with getting in good positions and finishing. He does bring great hold-up play to the team but they need him the replicate the finishing that he had against OKC to be successful this season. Jason Johnson has also featured up top this year but has a skill set more suited for a wing position.
CS: Patrice Carteron is in his first full season as the Phoenix Rising head coach. What are expectations from fans for 2018?
MM: Expectations are high this year! Patrice Carteron did a great job last year righting the ship after Frank Yallop left and I would expect no less in his first full year. With the amount of players returning and new faces coming in I think it would be a disappointment to not finish in the top 4 of the West this year. It is also Didier Drogba’s last year playing professional soccer and I know he’ll want to go out on top. Hopefully it’s topped with an MLS expansion announcement at the end of the year.
CS: The Swope Park Rangers eliminated PRFC in the playoffs last year. How did it sit with fans going out to a MLS 2 team?
MM: It stung, just as any loss in the playoffs would especially with the conditions surrounding it and the way it ended. I don’t recall many SKC players being sent down for that match [Editor’s note: There were a handful, but it’s the guys who were basically with SPR all year and who didn’t feature for SKC], which is always the concern with the MLS2 squads. There will always be a chip on the shoulder of the independent sides to prove they can compete with the MLS2 sides and I think for the most part Phoenix has been able to.
Line-up prediction: Woz, Dia [Editor: as in former Sporting KC man Amadou Dia], Mala, De Fonte, Dubose, Lambert, Fernandez, Awako, Forbes, Drogba, Asante
Score Prediction: 2-1 Phoenix, Drogba nabs one in his first home start and the defense does just enough to slow down Belmar.