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USL Insights – Swope Park Showdown

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 05/25/17, 3:37PM EDT


Contrasting styles between Rangers, SAFC should make intriguing clash

The USL’s weekend kicks off on Friday night with one of the best matchups in Week 10 as the Swope Park Rangers host San Antonio FC at Children’s Mercy Victory Field (8:30 p.m. ET | Preview). With the Rangers currently perfect at home this season, and riding a nine-game home winning streak back to last September, and SAFC the last remaining undefeated side in the USL, there’s plenty to like about the contest.

Most of all, though, is the manner the two teams have approached games this season. That potential contrast in styles with Swope Park’s measured possession game and San Antonio’s desire to strike on the counter-attack should make the game a fascinating one tactically.

For the Rangers, controlling the tempo of the game with the ball has been a key element to the team’s approach, and is highlighted by their passing accuracy rate, and volume. Swope Park has completed an average of 447 passes per game this season, at 84.1 percent accuracy, as it has looked to pull opposition defenses out of position with quick movement through the middle of the field into the final third.

A great example of this came in the Rangers’ last home game against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. The front four, led by a false 9 in Lebo Moloto, had their positions, but had enough freedom that the off-the-ball movement created openings for the others to move into. All the while, of the 106 passes the quartet of Moloto, Kevin Oliveira, Nansel Selbol and Kharlton Belmar made in the game, only four were considered "long" by Opta’s metrics.

The Rangers used that approach to knife through Vancouver’s defense three times in the first half on their way to a comfortable 3-1 win.

Swope Park Rangers' Attacking Quartet
Passes, Chances Created & Assists vs. VAN

San Antonio, on the other hand, isn’t as concerned with possessing the ball for long spells. It would rather let its playmakers get out and run as often as possible, and put pressure on opposing defenses in one-on-one matchups. SAFC has only averaged 246 completed passes per game this season, but the type of passes the Western Conference leader looks for in spreading the field vertically when it can out of the back has led to an average of two goals per game this season. Center backs Stephen McCarthy and Sebastian Ibeagha and central midfielder Michael Reed combined for 28 long passes against Phoenix Rising FC last Saturday, and 32 the previous week against Seattle Sounders FC 2 even with Reed being substituted in the 58th minute.

The reason for getting the ball up-field quickly is to try and give the team’s attacking pieces the chance for one-on-one matchups. SAFC’s 79 completed dribbles this season, led by the surging play of Billy Forbes on either wing, is more than any of the other clubs in the Western Conference, and almost double that of Swope Park’s 47. Against Phoenix last Saturday, Forbes alone completed six successful dribbles, and has used his speed and incisiveness to great effect all season, such as on this goal against Reno on April 15. 

While this is likely how both teams will set out their stalls on Friday night, though, it will be the little in-game adjustments that Head Coaches Nikola Popovic for Swope Park and Darren Powell for San Antonio might make that might be the most interesting to watch for. With Swope Park looking to run its home winning streak to double digits, and SAFC aiming to preserve its undefeated record this season, something’s going to give. It promises to be a compelling match to find out what elements will come to the fore.

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