The Swope Park Rangers (18-8-8) advanced to the Western Conference Final with a 1-0 victory over Sacramento Republic FC (13-13-8) on Saturday at Children's Mercy Park. Kharlton Belmar scored his team-leading 15th goal of the season less than a minute into the second half and Adrian Zendejas made four saves for his ninth clean sheet of the year.
The Rangers, who won the Western Conference Final a year ago to reach the USL Cup Final in the team's inaugural season, will now host OKC Energy FC on Saturday, November 4 at Children's Mercy Park in the Conference Final.
In the first half, SPR twice came close to opening the scoring. Lebo Moloto, who created a game-high five chances on Saturday, found Belmar behind the Sacramento backline however the Republic FC goalkeeper Evan Newton came off his line for an important and impressive early save. Amer Didic was then inches from scoring in his second straight postseason match when he connected with a corner kick from Felipe Hernandez only to see his header strike the woodwork.
On the opposite end, the Rangers defense held the visitors to only two shots on target in the first half and both came on long-range attempts. Villyan Bijev tested Adrian Zendejas from 30 yards out before Sammy Ochoa tried his luck from midfield minutes later.
The game's decisive moment came 52 seconds into the start of the second half when New Zealand international James Musa, who returned to the SPR lineup for the first time in a month, clipped a pass into the path of Tyler Pasher. Despite being brought down by two defenders, Pasher managed to direct his shot goalward and off the hand of Newton to set up Belmar for the opportunistic finish on the rebound with an alert header into the empty net. Belmar's 15 goals this season are a career-high and rank fourth most in the USL.
Pasher would continue to be a spark for SPR and nearly doubled the Rangers' lead in the 50th minute, racing onto a through ball from Moloto and skipping his shot wide of the far post.
The Republic FC would respond with three promising scoring chances, all through Bijev. The Portland Timbers 2 loanee had his header saved in the 64th minute, followed by a first-time effort in the 71st minute that bounced narrowly past the post and a well-struck shot in the 75th minute that required a diving stop by Zendejas.
Ultimately, it would be the home side that looked the more likely to score in the game's late stages with second-half substitutes Nansel Selbol and Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal each threatening in a span of 15 seconds. Selbol danced through the defense and forced a final save from Newton before his fellow Sporting KC Academy product unleashed a dipping shot from distance that missed the target by the slimmest of margins.
Given one last look on a free kick in stoppage time, Sacramento Republic FC failed to capitalize on the opportunity as centerback Christopher Christian sailed the set piece a dozen rows deep into the South Stand.
- The Swope Park Rangers will host sixth seed OKC Energy FC, led by head coach Jimmy Nielsen, in the Western Conference Final on Saturday, November 4 at Children's Mercy Park. Tickets will go on sale at 12 p.m. CT on Monday, October 30 via SeatGeek.com
Swope Park Rangers vs. Sacramento Republic FC
October 28, 2017 - Children's Mercy Park (Kansas City, Kan.)
Swope Park Rangers 1-0 Sacramento Republic FC
SPR - Kharlton Belmar 15 (unassisted) 46'
SPR - Parker Maher (caution; reckless foul) 39'
SAC - James Kiffe (caution; reckless foul) 41'
SAC - Sammy Ochoa (caution; reckless foul) 67'
Swope Park Rangers: Adrian Zendejas; Colton Storm, Dakota Barnathan, Amer Didic, Parker Maher; James Musa, Felipe Hernandez (Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal 84), Christian Duke ©; Kharlton Belmar, Lebo Moloto, Tyler Pasher (Nansel Selbol 66)
Substitutes Not Used: Liam Doyle, David Greczek, Robert Mirosavic, Max Rugova, Joe Amico
Sacramento Republic FC: Evan Newton; Elliot Hord, James Kiffe, Chris Christian, Emrah Klimenta ©; Agustin Cazarez (Lamin Suma 84), Jeremy Hall, Luis Espino (Peter McGlynn 55); Wilson Kneeshaw (Tyler Blackwood 77), Sammy Ochoa, Villyan Bijev
Substitutes Not Used: Carlos Rodriguez, Dominik Jakubek, Trevin Caesar, Gabe Gissie,
Referee: Ramy Touchan
Assistant Referees: Adrienne McDonald and Shane Kennard
Fourth Official: Ryan Cook
Weather: 48 degrees and sunny