The Swope Park Rangers (17-8-8) advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals on Sunday with a thrilling comeback at Swope Soccer Village to prevail over Phoenix Rising FC (17-8-8) in the USL Cup Playoffs. Didier Drogba gave the visitors the lead in the 99th minute, however Amer Didic pulled the Rangers level 10 minutes later and Lebo Moloto converted the game-winning penalty kick with the match deadlocked at 1-1 after 120 minutes.
The Western Conference Quarterfinal, which was suspended at halftime on Saturday night due to inclement weather and resumed at the start of the second half on Sunday, proved to be well worth the wait with a dramatic finale fitting of the occasion. SPR rookie goalkeeper Darrin MacLeod, who made a superb save on a Drogba free kick in extra time to push the match to penalties, came up big once again in the shootout to thwart Jamaican international Kevon Lambert on the opening kick.
Lambert would be the first of four Phoenix Rising FC mid-season signings to step to the penalty spot, followed by successful attempts from Amadou Dia and Gladson Awako, before Doueugui Mala missed in the fourth and final round as SPR was clinical with their conversions. Sporting KC Academy products Nansel Selbol and Christian Duke converted the first two SPR attempts, followed by Kharlton Belmar with the go-ahead goal and Moloto with the decisive final strike.
Nearly 20 hours earlier on Saturday, a severe thunderstorm halted the match after 45 minutes of play which saw just one shot on goal for either side and it came in the opening minute. Dia slipped a pass into Chris Cortez, who struck a first-time shot with his left foot that was palmed away by MacLeod. The 23-year-old out of Drake University would again deny Cortez in the 30th minute, diving to his left to claim a looping header off a Drogba corner kick.
Twenty-year-old Erik Palmer-Brown, making his first USL appearance on loan from Sporting KC since early May, would come close for the Rangers on a header over the bar from fellow Sporting KC Academy product Felipe Hernandez’s corner kick in the seventh minute. Hernandez would have a go himself from outside the penalty area in the 44th minute, as did Lebo Moloto with a pair of long-range attempts in first-half stoppage time, however the half would end scoreless and a 150-minute delay would ensue before the match was ultimately postponed.
On Sunday, Phoenix Rising FC made two changes to start the second half with the removal of Jason Johson, the team’s leading scorer, and Sam Hamilton, on loan from the Colorado Rapids. The visitors controlled much of the match initially and generated the first eight shots of the day, highlighted by Drogba’s 50-yard effort in the 50th minute and a strike from Dia in the 67th-minute that was saved by MacLeod.
The Rangers responded with the introduction of Selbol into the match in the 71st minute and the 20-year-old twice threatened to open the scoring, first in the 73rd minute with a shot narrowly wide of target and later forcing a save from Josh Cohen in the 90th minute. The Phoenix Rising FC goalkeeper was first called into action in the 77th minute when Belmar, who leads the team with 14 goals, had an opportunity to break the scoreless stalemate with the side’s first shot on goal of the game.
Instead it was Phoenix Rising FC who struck first through the club’s captain and co-owner. Drogba, a three-time FIFA World Cup veteran, rose up to meet a free kick floated in from midfield by Alessandro Riggi and won the header over both Palmer-Brown and MacLeod for the game’s opening goal on the cusp of the scoreboard hitting the 100-minute mark. Since debuting in June, Drogba scored 10 goals in 14 USL appearances – three of which came in Kansas City against the Swope Park Rangers – and his latest had Phoenix poised to upset the reigning Western Conference champions in their postseason debut.
On the brink of elimination, the Rangers -- who rallied for a 2-1 victory in the club’s regular season finale to secure home field advantage over Phoenix -- would produce another comeback at Children’s Mercy Victory Field. In the 109th minute, Moloto’s cross found Belmar in prime position in front of goal and, when the header went skyward, Didic was first to react to power a header between Cohen and Jordan Stewart on the goalline for his second goal of the year.
Moloto continued to be a playmaker for the Rangers up until the final whistle and nearly delivered a dagger in the 118th minute with a right-footed strike from 15 yards out that whistled inches wide of Cohen’s right post. Moloto would make no such mistake with his penalty kick, burying it into the back of the net in front of the supporters’ section to book SPR’s berth in the Western Conference Semifinals in pursuit of the team’s return to the USL Cup Final.
Next Match (UPDATED)
- The Swope Park Rangers will host Sacramento Republic FC at 4:00 p.m. CT on Saturday, October 28 at Children's Mercy Park. Tickets for the Western Conference Semifinal are available via SeatGeek.com. Sacramento Republic FC upset USL regular season champions Real Monarchs SLC in penalty kicks on Friday.
Swope Park Rangers vs. Phoenix Rising FC
October 22, 2017 – Swope Soccer Village (Kansas City, Mo.)
Swope Park Rangers 1-1 Phoenix Rising FC
Swope Park Rangers advance on penalty kicks (4-2)
PHX – Didier Drogba 10 (Alessandro Riggi 4) 99’
SPR – Amer Didic 2 (Kharlton Belmar 3) 109’
Penalty Kick Summary:
PHX – Kevon Lambert (saved)
SPR – Nansel Selbol (goal)
PHX – Amadou Dia (goal)
SPR – Christian Duke (goal)
PHX – Gladson Awako (goal)
SPR – Kharlton Belmar (goal)
PHX – Doueugui Mala (miss)
SPR – Lebo Moloto (goal)
Swope Park Rangers: Darrin MacLeod; Colton Storm, Amer Didic, Erik Palmer-Brown, Parker Maher; Dakota Barnathan, Felipe Hernandez, Christian Duke ©; Kharlton Belmar, Lebo Moloto, Tyler Pasher (Nansel Selbol 71)
Substitutes Not Used: David Greczek, Joe Amico, Oumar Ballo, Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal, Robert Mirosavic, Max Rugova
Phoenix Rising FC: Josh Cohen; Victor Vasquez, Jordan Stewart, Doueugui Mala, Kody Wakasa; Amadou Dia, Kevon Lambert, Sam Hamilton (Matt Watson 46), Jason Johnson (Gladson Awako 46); Didier Drogba ©, Chris Cortez (Alessandro Riggi 97)
Substitutes Not Used: Carl Woszczynski, AJ Gray, Peter Ramage, Shaun Wright-Phillips
Referee: Guido Gonzalez Jr.
Assistant Referees: Jeremy Kieso and Matthew Seem
Fourth Official: Matt Miller
Weather: 64 degrees and partly cloudy