On Saturday the USL Championship season got under way for Sporting Kansas City’s b-team the Swope Park Rangers. It didn’t get off to the start anyone would have wanted (except the New York Red Bulls II) but it’s the start we should have probably all expected.
This Team is Really Young
As our own Mike Kuhn pointed out, the average age of the players on the SPR roster are just 20.5 years old.
with the 3 academy contract signings the average age of the SPR roster is 20.5— Mike (@downthebyline) March 8, 2019
On Saturday against NYRB II the lineup was just a tick older with players like Graham Smith, Justin Bilyeu and Eric Dick all starting and Killian Columbie and Ethan Vanacore-Decker coming off the bench, but not by much older. Because the team is so young, I’d encourage fans to show patience.
The third string keeper for Sporting KC got the start for SPR on Saturday and he had both brilliant and terrible moments. First, he’s a fantastic shot stopper. He made some great saves in the game. The stop he had on Ben Mines when he was one-on-one and he dropped down and palmed the ball was amazing. He also have several other good to great saves.
But it’s all overshadowed by his poor distribution with his feet and his mind numbing mistakes. The first goal wasn’t 100% his fault, but it was darn close. Red Bulls striker Tom Barlow was going to get the ball behind the defense, but he was coming from the side and if Dick stays on his line, he has a chance to stop it. Instead he wildly comes out, completely misses everything and Barlow has a tap in.
If Dick can improve his distribution with his feet and play a little smarter, he has a great future ahead of him. If not, well he won’t be long for Sporting KC’s system.
Several Strong Debuts
Alexsander, Ayyoub Allach, Jerome Ngom Mbekeli and Tyler Freeman all made their debuts in the starting lineup. Freeman, the 16-year-old Homegrown rookie, might have been the most invisible but he showed flashes and he’ll continue to get minutes. His winger partner Mbekeli was pretty fantastic. A bit of a Gerso-lite. He was very fast, pretty good on the ball, and he had a fantastic assist on the only goal of the game.
Alexsander did well at his left back spot, especially on the ball and going forward. One has to imagine Justin Bilyeu will move back to LB as Abdul Rwatubyaye joins Swope but Alexsander showed skills that work at left back, in the advanced midfield roles or on the wing. At least until he left the game with an injury/cramp.
As for Allach, he started a bit slow but really got going as the game wore on. He consistently forced turnovers and combined well with the fullbacks, wingers and his midfield partners. He’ll be a good attacking option when Busio is with the first team or on international duty.
The Game was Closer than the Score
Sure, the game ended 3-1 in favor of New York, but it wasn’t really that bad. The first 10-15 minutes was really rough, but SPR didn’t allow any goals during that stretch. Just when things had turned towards Swope’s favor, they allowed a stupid goal in the 26th minute. For the rest of the half, they were in control for the most part and playing their possession oriented style. Then they pulled off a fantastic goal that looked like something straight out of the first team in the 44th minute.
The second half started strong as well, but then a momentary lapse of concentration left Marcus Epps unguarded outside the 18-yard-box and he hit a lovely ball into the net. Partly it was on the defenders for giving up that space, but it was a savable ball if Dick had stayed back on his line.
There aren’t any great replays of the third goal but it looked like Barlow was offside but there is no VAR in USL right now.
Give this team a few more games and allow them some loans of players like Rwatubyaye, Adrian Zendejas and Gianluca Busio and I suspect they’ll be even tougher to deal with. They are young and full of promise. It’ll be interesting to see who makes the jump to the first team this year.