Recap: Felipe Hernandez strikes as Rangers fall 3-1 to Red Bulls II in season opener

The Swope Park Rangers kicked off their 2019 USL Championship campaign on Saturday with a 3-1 road loss to New York Red Bulls II at MSU Soccer Park in Montclair, New Jersey.

Sporting Kansas City Academy product Felipe Hernandez unleashed an excellent volley in the 44th minute to pull the Rangers level, but Red Bulls II rode to victory behind a Tom Barlow brace and a long-range strike from Marcus Epps.

Second-year head coach Paulo Nagamura handed six players their SPR debuts, including a first professional appearance for 16-year-old Sporting KC loanee Tyler Freeman. Starters Alexsander, Ayyoub Allach and Jerome Ngom Mbekeli also donned a Rangers uniform for the first time, joining four other players in the starting lineup who were loaned down from Sporting—namely Eric Dick, Jaylin Lindsey, Graham Smith and Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal.

Dick was busy between the posts throughout the day, finishing with a career-high 12 saves. He produced three early stops before Red Bulls II scored the opening goal of the 2019 USL Championship season in the 26th minute, as Barlow raced onto an Epps through ball and slotted low to give the hosts a lead.

SPR weathered the first-half storm, however, and restored parity one minute before halftime. Wilson Harris did well to keep the ball in play along the endline before playing backward to Mbekeli on the right wing. The Cameroonian beat his defender and flashed a wonderful cross into the box for Hernandez, whose superb volley from 15 yards nestled into the far corner and put SPR on the 2019 scoresheet.

New York reasserted control in the second stanza, surging ahead for the second time with a 25-yard  curler from Epps in the 55th minute. The forward almost bagged his second goal in as many minutes shortly thereafter, but Dick dropped low to produce a brilliant stop and keep his team’s deficit at one.

Barlow put the game out of reach in the 62nd minute with his second strike of the afternoon, receiving a through ball from Jared Stroud and finishing low to double New York’s cushion. Ben Mines could have notched a fourth for Red Bulls II in the final moments, but Dick was heroic once more with a terrific one-handed save to extinguish the danger.

Winger Killian Colombie and defender Mark Segbers came off the bench for their maiden SPR appearances as the visitors aimed to land a counter-punch, and it nearly arrived courtesy of fellow substitute Ethan Vanacore-Decker in the 79th minute. The forward galloped onto a set piece delivery only to see his left-footed effort drag wide, and the scoreline remained 3-1 until referee J.C. Griggs blew the full-time whistle.

The Rangers have next weekend off before hosting Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in their Children’s Mercy Park home opener on Saturday, March 23. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. CT and tickets for the contest are available now on SeatGeek.com.

2019 USL Championship
Game 1 of 34

MSU Soccer Park | Montclair, New Jersey
Weather: 45 degrees and mostly sunny

Swope Park Rangers (0-1-0, 0 points)
New York Red Bulls II (1-0-0, 3 points)

Swope Park Rangers: Eric Dick; Jaylin Lindsey, Graham Smith (C), Justin Bilyeu, Alexsander (Mark Segbers 73); Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal, Felipe Hernandez, Ayyoub Allach; Jerome Ngom Mbekeli, Wilson Harris (Ethan Vanacore-Decker 67), Tyler Freeman (Killian Colombie 67)
Subs Not Used: Brooks Thompson, Camden Riley, Rassambek Akhmatov, Jake Davis

New York Red Bulls II: Evan Louri; Allen Yanes, Sean Nealis, Jordan Scarlett, Rece Buckmaster; Jean-Chrisophe Koffi, Christopher Lema, Vincent Bezecourt (Ben Mines 80); Florian Valot (C) (Jared Stroud (46), Marcus Epps, Tom Barlow (Sebastian Elney 85)
Subs Not Used: Francesco Montali, Preston Kilwien, Edgardo Rito, Kyle Zajec

Scoring Summary:
NY -- Tom Barlow 1 (Marcus Epps 1) 26
SPR -- Felipe Hernandez 1 (Jerom Ngom Mbekeli 1) 44
NY -- Marcus Epps 1 (unassisted) 55
NY -- Tom Barlow 2 (Jared Stroud 1) 62

Misconduct Summary:
SPR -- Justin Bilyeu (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 18
SPR -- Killian Colombie (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 73

Shots on Goal
Corner Kicks

Referee: JC Griggs
Assistant Referee: Tom Felice
Assistant Referee: Amilcar Sicaju
Fourth Official: Luis Arroyo