Photo courtesy of Swope Park Rangers
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Swope Park Rangers were reduced to nine men toward the end of regulation and the entirety of overtime during their conference semifinal match Sunday. Despite that massive hurdle, USL all-time goal-scoring leader Dane Kelly tallied a colossal 105th-minute goal as the fourth-seeded Rangers’ defense held strong the rest of the way for a thrilling 2-1 victory against eighth-seeded Orange County Blues FC during the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2016 USL Cup Playoffs at Children’s Mercy Victory Field at Swope Soccer Village. Swope’s Mark Anthony Gonzalez gave his side the early lead, but things took a big turn when Swope’s outside backs eventually hit the showers early. In the 69th minute, Swope was reduced to 10 men when Ever Alvarado was sent off. Orange County needed one minute after the sending off to find the equalizer through second-half sub Max Rauhofer. Then in the closing stages in the 88th minute, Tommy Meyer was sent off with a studs-to-the-groin to Orange County’s Akwafei Ajeakwa, putting Swope in a bind with just nine men. The Blues had the clear-cut advantage with two extra players, but they were unable to make strong use of the situation as Kelly catapulted the Rangers into the Western Conference Final. Swope will now host sixth-seeded Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 on Saturday.
Three Things That Mattered:
1. The Rangers put themselves in what appeared to be an impossible obstacle. The sending off of Ever Alvarado and Tommy Meyer were such critical moments, and Orange County took advantage of the first one with Max Rauhofer’s equalizer. Yet Swope kept its cool, juggled things around in the back line and carefully picked its spots offensively against an Orange County side that was struggling on its attacking end. Dane Kelly was the game’s hero after Nansel Selbol spotted him making a run in the 105th minute. From long distance, Kelly had some space to shoot and took a crack at the near left post, sneaking it inside the frame and past a diving Josh Cohen for a 2-1 advantage. The Rangers still had 15 more minutes to hold on, and with some collective defending they did just enough to keep Orange County off the score sheet in overtime to advance to the conference final.
2. With Mark Anthony Gonzalez coming off a two-goal game in a substitution role during last week’s win against the LA Galaxy II, it was hard to argue with him getting the starting nod over Kelly on Sunday. Scoring in bunches is the name of the game up front, and especially at this critical junction, and Gonzalez worked himself into a good position early on for the lead against Orange County and his third tally of the postseason. The 20th-minute score stemmed from the always-high work rate of Kris Tyrpak, who charged up the right side. His initial attack was disrupted by a pair of Blues defenders and Tyrpak stuck with it and got another touch to direct the ball toward the edge of the six-yard area. Gonzalez was in the right place and slotted the ball toward the far left post and past Blues goalkeeper Josh Cohen for the 1-0 lead.
3. Orange County was without Trinidad & Tobago international and leading goal scorer Trevin Caesar, so that put the spotlight on Akwafei Ajeakwa and A.J. Gray to fill that void. Ajeakwa had a golden opportunity to give the Blues a 10th-minute lead, only to push the ball wide of the goal. Andrae Campbell had an impressive opening half for Orange County both on the defensive end and in the attack, and it was his deep ball that set up Ajeakwa. Uncharacteristically, Swope defender Amer Didic misjudged the ball, and Ajeakwa found himself one-on-one against Rangers goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas. With the opportunity to shoot with either foot and pinpoint either side of the frame, Ajeakwa elected a right-footed shot with the outside of his right boot, but he bent it wide of the frame as Swope escaped an early scare.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match:
Dane Kelly, Swope Park Rangers – Kelly’s shorthanded tally – reduced to nine men – in overtime led the Rangers to what appeared to be an improbable mountain to climb to advance to the conference final.
Swope Park Rangers: Western Conference Final vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 – 8:30 p.m. ET, Oct. 15, Swope Soccer Village
Orange County Blues FC – End of Season
20’ – SPR – Mark Anthony Gonzalez (Kris Tyrpak)
70’ – OC – Max Rauhofer
105’ – SPR – Dane Kelly (Nansel Selbol)
SPR: 95-Adrian Zendejas; 26-Tommy Meyer, 55-Amer Didic, 81-Oumar Ballo, 24-Ever Alvarado; 23-Emmanuel Appiah (31-Nansel Selbol, 78’), 32-Christian Duke, 45-Ayrton (90-Johnny Grant, 90’+2); 50-Kris Tyrpak (44-Tomas Granitto, 70’), 47-Mark Anthony Gonzalez (99-Dane Kelly, 65’; 38-Akeil Barrett, 120’+1), 77-Tyler Pasher
OC: 1-Josh Cohen; 12-Andrae Campbell, 6-Maurice Pluntke, 23-Brenton Griffiths (3-Kwame Watson-Siriboe, 84’), 13-Matt Sheldon; 19-Ivan Mirkovic, 21-Didier Crettenand (90-Max Rauhofer, 61’), 10-Richard Chaplow, 16-Mats Bjurman (27-Orr Barouch, 84’); 14-Akwafei Ajeakwa (15-Ryan Felix, 116’), 24-A.J. Gray
Venue: Swope Soccer Village