The Swope Park Rangers improved to 0-1-1 on the season with a late draw against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the first ever meeting between the two clubs. The game included eight Sporting Kansas City players on loan to SPR, including seven starters. The loanees were Adrian Zendejas, Rodney Wallace, Graham Smith, Gedion Zelalem, Kelyn Rowe, Gianluca Busio, Tyler Freeman, Eric Dick and Wan Kuzain.
Shortly after arriving in Kansas City the former Arsenal man made his debut, but not with the first team. He lined up at defensive midfielder for SPR in their second USL Championship game of the season. He didn’t look bad in the role, but it’s something he seemed less comfortable with. Instead of occupying the center of the field he would drive from one side to the other. He did show some some very good on the ball skills to beat players as he definitely played the role much different than Ilie Sanchez does for SKC.
At the start of the second half Zelalem moved up into the attack and switched roles with SKC loanee Kelyn Rowe who dropped back deep. Zelalem immediately looked more comfortable and played a very clever ball into the box that just dinked off the toe of Busio. No one saw it coming, even his teammates. As he gets more time with both SKC and SPR, that chemistry should grow. Ultimately he was subbed off in the 59th minute for Kuzain who took back his holding mid role and let Rowe push forward.
No doubt that Kelyn Rowe was the MVP of the game for me. He had a few bad touches and passes early and picked up a tactical yellow just before the end of the game. But outside those plays, he was quite dangerous. He sent several balls into the box and played several clever passes to setup his teammates. His first surprise ball over the top fell to Wilson Harris who probably should have scored but placed his shot too close to the keeper.
Rowe probably should have had at least one assist but instead he ended up with a very late goal. In the 88th minute Busio cut through traffic and played a long through ball to Killian Colombie who beat his defender to the endline and sent a ball through the box that Rowe was able to get to and ping off the post and in to put Swope ahead. Unfortunately the lead wouldn’t hold. More on that in a moment. Overall, Rowe, who captained the team, should have been the best guy out there since some thought he’d be an SKC starter, so he lived up to that despite a slow start.
Speaking of Colombie, it looked like he was going to have a substitute appearance to forget. He subbed on in the 68th minute for 16-year-old Tyler Freeman and got a yellow card for a rough challenge two minutes later. But instead of having a terrible game, he sparked both goals. The first was setup off a Mark Segbers cross that looked to be too far until Colombie hit it first time like a rocket into the box. Joseph Greenspan blocked the shot which fell to Rodney Wallace who sent it home for an 83rd minute equalizer. Then of course he also had the above-mentioned assist on the Rowe goal. Not a bad jolt from the bench in his second substitute appearance on the year.
Outside of the previously mentioned goal, Wallace didn’t have the best of games at left back. For a player who had played winger and wide midfielder, he struggled to stay wide. He would take passes and drift into the middle of the field and just generally be out of position defensively. That was extra frustrating to watch as he was playing next to 18-year-old rookie Mo Abualnadi, who was making his pro debut. Mo could have used a more consistent left back next to him. The goal makes up for things a bit, but Seth Sinovic’s job isn’t in jeopardy. Maybe we can blame this on sleep deprivation as Wallace just had a kid in the last week.
A Debut to Forget
Oh Mo... not the best way to start a pro career. The commentary team was giving Abualnadi lots of credit and he did look mostly steady early. He did a fine job passing around the back, clearing balls and keeping his attackers at bay early in the game. However, it went downhill as the game wore on.
Abualnadi is the defender who got beat on the first goal. He was weirdly falling as the ball came in. Maybe it was an attempt to clear it over his head but it seems he should have used his size to get between the cross and the attacker. On the second goal he went through the back of former SKC player Christian Volesky to pick up a DOGSO red card and give up a 91st minute penalty kick goal.
Also, in the first half Abualnadi picked up a foul that was called out of the box by the referee. However, on replay it was on the edge of the box and should have been a penalty kick. The USL Championship doesn’t currently have VAR, which seems like it needs to change (even if it did benefit KC today).
Left Center Back
The left CB spot is very up in the air. Justin Bilyeu played out of position there in the opener and struggled. Abualnadi got sent off in his debut at that spot Saturday. Help will be needed there and it may come in the form of recent SKC signee Abdul Rwatubyaye who is currently on international duty with Rwanda. The only other player on the SPR roster who lines up at CB is 2019 Second Round SuperDraft pick Camden Riley. It may be time to see big red in there if Rwatubyaye isn’t able to take that spot by the time SPR play against on April 6th (another two week gap) against Bethlehem Steel (Philadelphia Union).
Other SKC Loanee Thoughts
- Graham Smith was steady if not unspectacular. Essentially what you mostly want from your CB.
- Kuzain got limited minutes but he pinged the ball around well, if not mostly too safe despite the team trailing for most of his shift.
- Tyler Freeman had another middle of the road game. He showed several flashes of what makes him special and shows he is loaded with potential but he had some sour moments too.
- Adrian Zendejas was mostly fine but he had a few tentative moments, including not coming out on the ball that led to the red card. The Pittsburgh keeper, Ben Lundgaard, definitely had a better game overall.
- Busio probably deserved a second assist for the pass that sprung the second goal, but outside of that he didn’t blow it away. He, along with most of the team in the first half, had horrible chemistry and struggled on some basic passes. The team really needs more time together overall.
As I said at the beginning of the season, it may be a rough year, at least at first. SPR are much younger than they were in the past. And in this game, where they weren’t quite as young with all their SKC loanees, they lacked chemistry. As both teams spend time together practicing, everyone should be lifted up.
You can go back and watch the entire game on ESPN+, though I highly recommend skipping the first half which was atrocious. Despite all the second half scoring, it didn’t seem like SPR were ever going to score based on the first 35 minutes of the half. Everything felt disjointed.
Jerome Ngom Mbekeli came back down to earth after playing pretty fantastic in the opener. Ethan Vanacore-Decker came on as a center forward sub again and he looks to be out of position. He barely touched the ball and looked like he didn’t know where he should be. Wilson Harris, the starting CF, did a good job holding up the ball and distributing to his teammates, but he probably should have scored on his pass from Rowe. And so everyone gets a mention, Mark Segbers debut looked a bit rough at times but he made a goal saving tackle and had a cross that setup the first goal, so it could have been worse for him.
Below are the full highlights, if rewatching the game is too much for you. The Rangers have another bye week next week and return against Philadelphia’s USL club, Bethlehem Steel, on April 6th at Children’s Mercy Park.