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Six Observations from Swope Park Versus Memphis

The Rangers continue to improve but to make a playoff run they are going to need to get some wins.

Thad Bell

On Wednesday, the Swope Park Rangers played one of their weakest opponents of the season. Unfortunately for them, despite the game being entertaining and relatively dominated by SPR, they only managed a 2-2 draw. Here are some things that stood out to me.

Hell of a First Start for Karani

I was really impressed with SKC Academy product Sean Karani. Fantastic first start. He lined up on the right wing in-lieu-of Will Little and he was marvelous. It could be that Memphis 901 FC are just not as good as other teams (they are way down in the standings) but Karani torched both fullbacks at times (he moved to LW in the second half).

He drew lots of fouls (including the penalty kick — which was soft from what I saw). He added something none of the other wingers have added. He was fast, exciting going forward and he had a secondary assist on the second goal. MVP for me against Memphis, hands down. I’m excited to see him start more in the future. At just 18-years-old he shows good promise and I was glad to see him on the wing instead of out of position at center forward.

He’s committed to Temple University for the fall so it’ll be interesting to see if he goes to college like Roman Knox did last year or if he forgoes it to become a pro like Wilson Harris. That’s a place where I’m torn. College is expensive and if you are on a full ride scholarship, that’s hard to turn down. It’s unlikely that most players will become pros that earn enough to make a living. But there is something to be said about following your dreams.

Set Piece Defending

The set piece defending was awful. There is just no way around it. Memphis took six corner kicks and they scored on two of them. On the first goal Tyler Freeman lost his mark and allowed a tap in at the far post. Now should Erik Dick have claimed those balls in the air... maybe. Regardless, it’s a trend that is also causing trouble for the first team Sporting Kansas City. Neither SKC or SPR are very large, but they have to find a way to not give up silly goals (or the fouls or set pieces that lead to them). It was the difference between a win and a draw.

Tyler Freeman Returned

After spending quite a bit of time away with the United States U-17 squad for World Cup Qualifying, Tyler Freeman rejoined SPR as the starting left winger. As mentioned above, he was involved in the first goal going in for the opposing team in just the third minute. Outside of that, he played a pretty strong 45 minutes, but he disappeared at times.

In an effort to get on the ball he didn’t maintain his width very well and he dropped deep or into the midfield. When he was on the ball, you could see the moments of brilliance from him. He has a style and flair you don’t see from the other players.

It’s interesting too that he only played 45 minutes. I believe I heard the commentary team (of Carter Augustine and Seth Sinovic) mention he might not be 90 minutes fit. He only played sporadically for the USMNT over the last few weeks, so that could be true. Or it could be that he is definitely going to be in the 18 for Sporting KC on Sunday since they can’t even fill their bench. We’ll probably know for sure later in the week or if he shows up on the team sheet for SPR in Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Felipe Hernandez

For me, Felipe was just a little off on Wednesday. Make no mistake, he’s the best player on the Rangers. But he missed on a few key passes and just generally didn’t seem quite up to his usual level. That said, he still had a pretty good game and he looks like the most likely Ranger player to earn a first team contract. He has shades of a young Roger Espinoza in him but with more of a knack for finding goals. He still leads Swope with four on the season.

This is a PK, Right?!

Speaking of Hernandez, I sure thought when he was taken down in the box in the first half it looked like a penalty kick. Here is the play in question.

Carter and Seth didn’t think it was a PK, but what defender would? Several people on Twitter said it wasn’t a PK. But it looks to me like Hernandez tries to touch the ball around the defender and the defender tries to go between the man and the ball and crashes into the chest/front of the shoulder of Felipe. Seems like a penalty kick to me. To be fair, the call where they gave a PK to Karani seemed soft, so maybe it’s all a wash.

Lineup Inconsistency

Even though the Rangers ultimately didn’t pull out the win, they are showing signs of life. They have had their best month of the season (though the bar is low). One problem they can’t control is the wild inconsistency of their lineups. Partially it’s due to their own injuries. Partially it’s due to the first team injuries. And some of it could be due to player form.

In particular the defense has been rotated heavily. The fullbacks are the only constant in left back Alexsander and right back Mark Segbers. But look below at all the players who have lined up at these other spots.

Goalkeeper: Adrian Zendejas, Eric Dick, John Pulskamp, Max Trejo

Center Back: Graham Smith, Camden Riley, Abdul Rwatubyaye, Justin Bilyeu, Mo Abualnadi, Kaveh Rad

Defensive Midfielder: Wan Kuzain, Ayyoub Allach, Gedion Zelalem, Kelyn Rowe, Jahon Rad, Camden Riley, Jake Davis

They’ve only played 10 games. It’s tough to be good defensively with this much squad rotation and inconsistency in the spine of the defense. And it’s not like the other spots have been consistent either.