The Swope Park Rangers (11-4-2, 3rd place) will put a pair of club records on the line Thursday when the team travels to face Seattle Sounders FC 2 (7-9-2, 7th place) to conclude a three-game Pacific Northwest road trip. Winners of six straight USL matches and unbeaten in nine consecutive games since the start of June, the Rangers will now visit Starfire Stadium for a 9:30 p.m. CT kickoff in Tukwila, Washington. The Western Conference matchup will stream live on SportingKC.com with additional live stats and updates on the USLSoccer.com MatchCenter.
Under the guidance of head coach Nikola Popovic, the Rangers have collected two straight 1-0 victories on their current road swing, defeating Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 last Wednesday before knocking off Portland Timbers 2 on Sunday. Forward Kharlton Belmar came off the bench to score the game-winner on both occasions, moving into the team lead with six goals this season.
A staunch SPR backline has posted four consecutive shutouts during the current winning streak and hasn’t conceded a goal in 381 minutes dating back to June 27. During the entirety of this run, the defense has been anchored by Sporting Kansas City’s on-loan goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas and domineering center backs Amer Didic and Liam Doyle. Belmar, Didic and Zendejas were recognized for their recent contributions with a USL Team of the Week nod on Tuesday.
Currently occupying third place in the Western Conference, the Rangers boast a balanced attack going forward. Mark Anthony Gonzalez is second on the team with five goals, while playmaker Kevin Oliveira and diminutive winger Nansel Selbol have chipped in three goals each. The 21-year-old Oliveira also leads the side with five assists and 25 shot attempts for a team that sits atop the USL with 84 percent passing accuracy and 59 percent average possession.
Seattle is presently seventh in the Western Conference table, 12 points behind SPR. Led by head coach and former MLS veteran Ezra Hendrickson, Sounders FC 2 are looking to snap a two-game losing skid that includes a 4-1 setback to conference leaders Real Monarchs SLC on July 8 and a 2-1 home loss to Orange County SC on Sunday. Midfielder David Olsen bagged his fourth goal of the campaign in the weekend defeat, but Orange County struck on either side of Seattle’s equalizer to claim the win.
Midfielder Zach Mathers has scored a team-best six goals for a Seattle squad that includes assist leader Ray Saari, a 22-year-old Kansas City native who trialed with SPR during the 2017 preseason. Sounders FC 2 have shown vulnerability at the back, however, leaking 38 goals over 18 matches for an average of 2.1 per game.
Thursday marks the first meeting between the sides this year, with a second showdown slated for Oct. 11 — SPR’s 2017 regular season finale at Children’s Mercy Victory Field inside Swope Soccer Village.
The Rangers swept the 2016 series with a pair of 2-0 wins, using second-half goals from Kris Tyrpak and Mark Anthony Gonzalez to prevail at Starfire Stadium last June. The sides met again in September in the final game of the 2016 regular season as Didic and Tyler Pasher found the back of the net to seal the home triumph and set the stage for SPR’s playoff run to the USL Cup Final.
Date: Thursday, July 20, 2017
Kickoff: 9:30 p.m. CT
Location: Starfire Stadium (Tukwila, Washington)
Swope Park Rangers: 11-4-2 (35 pts), 3rd in Western Conference
MLS Affiliate: Sporting Kansas City
Seattle Sounders FC 2: 7-9-2 (23 pts), 7th in Western Conference
MLS Affiliate: Seattle Sounders FC
Match-specific hashtag: #SEAvSPR