Photo courtesy Nick Tre. Smith / Swope Park Rangers
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The No. 4-seed Swope Park Rangers returned to their second straight Western Conference Final following a 1-0 win against No. 8-seed Sacramento Republic FC at Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday evening in the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs. In the opening minute of the second half some poor Sacramento defense gave the Rangers the opening goal of the match as Evan Newton could only parry an initial shot by Tyler Pasher away to Kharlton Belmar, who easily headed home into an empty net. Belmar very nearly opened the scoring in the ninth minute as his shot snuck under Newton, only for the Republic FC goalkeeper's effort to slow it down enough to allow him to recover and dive on the rebound. Sacramento's Sammy Ochoa had a golden opportunity to open the scoring too as a short back pass had Rangers goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas scrambling, but Ochoa's first touch was heavy allowing the Rangers defense to clear it for a corner which ended up going out for a goal kick. A half-clearance from the Rangers gave Republic FC's Villyan Bijev a golden opportunity to pull a goal back with 20 minutes to play but he took a quick shot, sending it wide of goal. Bijev was a big part of a late charge from Sacramento as it finally got into the match, but the Rangers defense was much too strong, closing out the 1-0 victory with relative ease.
46’ – SPR – Kharlton Belmar
Three Things That Matter:
1. After leading the Swope Park Rangers in goals with 14 during the regular season, it was no surprise that Kharlton Belmar popped up to score his first USL Cup Playoffs goal to send his side to victory. The goal continued a career best output for Belmar, continuing his rise after a frustrating three-goal season in 2016 with the Portland Timbers 2.
2. The Rangers defense was vital again in this match, as they restricted Sacramento Republic FC to just 10 shots. Of those shots, six of them came from outside the box, reflecting how well the Rangers defense shut down Sacramento whenever it looked to find a chance inside the penalty area. While SPR goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas finished the game with four saves, none were exceptionally challenging.
3. Playing a high press for most of the match, the Rangers applied heavy pressure to the Sacramento front line which led to plenty of mistakes, opening up chances for the Rangers to score. That was shown in the interceptions statistic, as the Rangers forced 25 interceptions, a number of which came in the Republic FC half that allowed Swope Park to spring forward quickly into attack and look the more threatening of the two sides throughout.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match:
Kharlton Belmar, Swope Park Rangers – Belmar was lively up front for the Rangers all match, highlighted by his goal. Belmar won four duels throughout the match, and forced Sacramento into three fouls in an attempt to slow the goalscorer down.
Western Conference Final – Swope Park Rangers vs. OKC Energy FC, Nov. 4, 8:30 p.m. ET, Children's Mercy Park.
Sacramento Republic FC – End of Season