The Swope Park Rangers (0-3-2, 2 points) shut out Birmingham Legion FC (2-2-1, 7 points) on Saturday for their first clean sheet of the season, battling to a 0-0 road draw at BBVA Compass Stadium.
The result saw SPR limit USL Championship expansion side Birmingham to just three shots on target, none of which after the 30th minute. The visitors put six shots on frame themselves, but Legion goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel delivered a strong performance between the posts to ensure a sharing of the spoils.
Ethan Vanacore-Decker—one of three fresh faces in the Rangers’ starting lineup alongside Ayyoub Allach and Sporting KC Academy product Will Little—nearly opened the scoring within 60 seconds when Felipe Hernandez forced a turnover and set the striker through on goal, but Van Oekel sprung low to make the save.
Van Oekel produced another diving stop on the half-hour mark, pushing aside a 25-yard piledriver from Allach. Shortly thereafter, Little chested down Killian Colombie’s searching cross and sent a booming volley over the bar.
SPR goalkeeper Eric Dick saved three shots in the early stages, none of which caused as much concern as Daniel Johnson’s near miss in the 35th minute. The winger, who trialed with Sporting Kansas City during the club’s 2019 preseason in Arizona, found a pocket of space at the top of the box and dragged his effort marginally wide of Dick’s left-hand post.
The contest remained delicately poised into the second half as Alexsander’s long-range strike deflected narrowly over the woodwork in the 65th minute. At the opposite end, Prosper Kasim’s turf-cutting drive through traffic ricocheted off teammate Edward Opoku and fizzed a yard wide of frame on 71 minutes. Opoku pulled the trigger himself five minutes later, only to see his thunderous attempt sail wayward.
Hernandez did well to preserve possession in the 79th minute, sliding to win the ball and tee up a shot for Allach, but the Belgian’s 20-yard hit was smothered by Van Oekel. SPR then had two golden opportunities to bag a stoppage-time winner, but the Birmingham gloveman denied Allach and substitute Jerome Ngom Mbekeli in impressive fashion.
The Rangers return to action next Saturday, traveling to face cross-state rivals Saint Louis FC at Toyota Stadium in Fenton, Missouri. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. CT with a live stream on ESPN+.
2019 USL Championship
Game 5 of 34
BBVA Compass Field | Birmingham, Alabama
Weather: 63 degrees and partly cloudy
|Swope Park Rangers (0-3-2, 2 points)||0||0||0|
|Birmingham Legion FC (2-2-1, 7 points)||0||0||0|
Swope Park Rangers: Eric Dick; Mark Segbers, Graham Smith (C), Camden Riley, Alexsander; Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal (Rassambek Akhmatov 93+), Felipe Hernandez, Ayyoub Allach; Will Little, Ethan Vanacore-Decker (Sean Karani 84), Killian Colombie (Jerome Ngom Mbekeli 62)
Subs Not Used: John Pulskamp, Mo Abualnadi, Kaveh Rad, Wilson Harris
Birmingham Legion FC: Matt Van Oekel; Eric Avila, Kyle Fisher, Mathieu Laurent, Kyle Culbertson; Daigo Kobayashi (Edward Opoku 62), Mikey Lopez (C), Zachary Herivaux; Prosper Kasim (Femi Hollinger-Janzen 80), Chandler Hoffman (Joe Holland 85), Daniel Johnson
Subs Not Used: Trevor Spangenberg, Gael Mabiala, Tyler Turner, Marcos Ugarte
BHM -- Kyle Fisher (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 38
SPR -- Felipe Hernandez (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 44
BHM -- Kyle Culbertson (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 53
BHM -- Mathieu Laurent (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 57
BHM -- Zachary Herivaux (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 72
|Shots on Goal||6||3|
Referee: Elvis Osmanovic
Assistant Referee: Mario Martinez Cabrera
Assistant Referee: Austin Holt
Fourth Official: Peter Gonzalez