What a game! Not the way Sporting Kansas City or Swope Park Rangers fans would have liked it to turn out, but it was at least full of goals. Here are some takeaways from the 4-3 loss that SPR was dealt late.
Debuts all Around
The starting SPR lineup was full of new faces.
From Max Trejo, Jake Davis and Camden Riley making their pro debuts to Ethan Vanacore-Decker to Killian Colombie getting their first starts, the Rangers showed lots different looks on Saturday. Also, some names popped in the 18 for the first time in William Opoku Mensah, Kaveh Rad and John Pulskamp. Will Little also got onto the field as a sub for the first time in 2019.
How Does this Impact Sporting KC’s Lineup?
Based on who started and played for the Rangers, you have to wonder who will play against FC Cincinnati on Sunday. The only SKC players loaned down were Graham Smith and Wan Kuzain and Smith could be on a season long loan for all we know to free up an SKC roster spot.
Last time the Rangers played, Rodney Wallace, Kelyn Rowe, Kuzain, Smith, Gedion Zelalem, Tyler Freeman, Gianluca Busio, Eric Dick and Adrian Zendejas were all on loan. That seems like an indication the backups may be getting the start in Cincy instead of playing exhausted starters.
Could that mean starters have a run out against Monterrey on Thursday in a meaningless game? It’s hard to know. When you want Peter Vermes to rest players he plays them and when most people are saying push through and rest during the useless CCL game, he might end up giving them a rest. We’ll see around 1 PM CT when the lineup comes out tomorrow.
What Do We Make of the Other Lineup Changes?
Other than missing SKC players, there were other lineup changes. The biggest two were rookie Camden Riley in at center back and Vanacore-Decker in at CF.
The left CB spot has been wildly inconsistent. Justin Bilyeu, a left back, played there in the opener. 18-year-old rookie Mo Abualnadi had a poor start in the second game before being sent off. The best of the bunch, despite the four goals, has definitely been Riley. He worked hard, he’s an accurate passer and he even made nice moves up the field at times. I expect, barring an SKC loanee (Abdul Rwatubyaye) coming down, that he’ll start again.
Perhaps the more surprising change was Vanacore-Decker starting over Wilson Harris. Harris had played well in both games so far this season and didn’t seem to have done anything to lose that spot. Also, Vanacore-Decker hadn’t done basically anything as a sub to show he deserved to start. But when he got the start, he took advantage by combining well with Colombie on the first goal. What will be interesting to see is if Mensah is a CF as well, who gets the minutes going forward.
A Debut to Forget
16-year-old Max Trejo made his professional debut in goal on Saturday and while he’s likely never to forget it, things didn’t go as planned. He was just signed to an Academy contract on Thursday and was in the lineup by Saturday. He let in four goals, which sounds bad in and of itself, but they weren’t all his fault.
The first and third goals were beyond his control. On the first Graham Smith falls down in his path and he can’t get to the other side of the net. On the third a shot deflects unluckily off RB Mark Segbers head and floats into the goal.
But on the second goal, he’s off his line fighting for position with the eventual goal scorer just before Benjamin Ofeimu separates to head it in. If he stays on his line, he has a chance. And on the game-winning goal he spills a shot directly at him right into the feet of Sergio Santos who puts it home in the 93rd minute.
You have to feel for the kid in what will likely be one of the few times he gets on the field this year. SPR have three keepers under contract and he’s the only one on an Academy deal. Last year Herrera and MacLeod (the rostered keepers) could barely get on the field because Zendejas and Dick got most of the starts. Trejo likely will be stuck thinking about this one for a while, though he should still feature heavily for the SKC Academy.
The Non-PK Call for Smith
Late in the game, the announcers were insistent that Graham Smith had earned a PK for a late tackle in the box. And if he had, it would have been a red card since it likely would have been DOGSO. However, from my view, it was a good non-call. Yes Smith had his left hand on the waist of the attacker but he didn’t pull him back and he sweeps his leg around and gets all ball on the tackle. Good no call. At least the announcers weren’t being homers like so many USL Championship announcers are.
Jerome Ngom Mbekeli
Mbekeli again had another fantastic game. He was a little invisible the last 20 minutes, which didn’t help since three Bethlehem Steel goals went in down the stretch, but I’m not sure he’s to blame.
However, his offense resurgence can’t be overlooked. After being possibly the best guy on the field in the opener against New York Red Bulls II, he was pretty poor against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Today, he was again breaking open the game. Not to mention he had two goals. The first may have been deflected but his speed and a good Felipe Hernandez pass created the opening.
But his second goal was beautiful. He cut back onto his apparently less-favored left foot and curled a shot in from the top of the box. If he can find consistency he will be a delight to watch this season.
- Segbers looked very tired down the stretch. He’s now the man at RB with Jaylin Lindsey hurt. We can’t fault him too much for being tired as the game was wide open and most of SPR ran themselves ragged.
- Ayyoub Allach returned to the lineup but appeared to be playing defensive midfield despite the USL television graphics saying otherwise. He did well there but seemed to struggle more when Kuzain replaced Davis and pushed him forward. Though, he too, could have just been tired.
- Felipe Hernandez had a steady if unspectacular game. His assist was quite nice and he disrupted the midfield as a box-to-box midfielder should, but we are all waiting for him to take that next leap.
- Jake Davis’ debut was a quiet one. He got an assist but Mbekeli basically did all the heavy lifting on that one. His name wasn’t called for making mistakes, so that’s at least a good way to start.
- Alexsander is a very attacking left back. He seemed to play pretty well but when four goals go into your net, it’s hard to say anyone on the defense was too great.
- Overall the Rangers have let in nine goals in three games. The wildly inconsistent lineups aren’t helping anyone. Nor is the time off between games. Hopefully they start to find a rhythm as they’ll be playing a lot of games over the next two months. They need to do something to get out of next-to-last place in the Eastern Conference. A win today would have shot them up to 13th from 17th. Hopefully the climb starts soon.