Recap: Hernandez, Rowe and Freeman strike as Rangers edge Hartford Athletic in 4-3 thriller

The Swope Park Rangers (3-9-6, 15 points) secured their third victory of 2019 on Wednesday night, edging Hartford Athletic (3-13-4, 13 points) in a 4-3 thriller at Children’s Mercy Park.

Felipe Hernandez dispatched his team-leading eighth goal of the year, Kelyn Rowe bagged a quickfire brace in the first half and 16-year-old Tyler Freeman opened his professional scoring account as SPR held off a late Hartford rally in a USL Championship Eastern Conference barnburner played amidst scorching conditions.

Head coach Paulo Nagamura fielded a formidable Rangers lineup that included six players on loan from Sporting Kansas City, including MLS veterans Rowe, Erik Hurtado and Jimmy Medranda. Hurtado earned his first runout since featuring for Sporting on March 6, having spent the previous four months recovering from a knee injury, while captain Graham Smith and Academy products Freeman and Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal rounded out the Sporting contingent. Between the posts, 17-year-old SPR goalkeeper Brooks Thompson landed his professional debut.

Hernandez fired SPR ahead after just seven minutes, capitalizing on a costly giveaway to mark his third straight appearance with a goal. Hartford left back Ray Lee, who developed as a youth player in the Sporting KC Academy, failed to corral a backwards pass in his defensive third, allowing the pressing Hernandez to race onto the ball and finish emphatically past goalkeeper Frederik Due.

The hosts kept their foot on the pedal and nearly doubled their cushion in the 18th minute when Medranda lofted a decadent ball over the top for Hurtado. The striker exploited space between Hartford’s center backs and chested the ball down cleanly, but his shot near the penalty spot fizzed high and wide. Shortly thereafter, Medranda threatened with a close-range sledgehammer off Alexsander’s corner kick, but Due sprawled out to produce a kick save.

Rowe showcased his unmistakable quality with a masterstroke on 28 minutes. Medranda once again orchestrated the move, finding his Sporting teammate with a pocket of space 40 yards from goal. Rowe then advanced goalward and pulled the trigger from 30 yards, sending a missile past the diving Due and into the upper left corner for his second goal in as many SPR appearances this season.

The rout was officially underway on the half-hour mark as Hurtado galloped free into the penalty area and unselfishly squared it to Rowe for the simplest of tap-ins to extend SPR’s bulge to 3-0. The midfielder’s bid for a hat-trick was thwarted on the cusp of halftime, however, as his low drive set up by Hernandez was palmed away by the ever-busy Due.

Hartford head coach Jimmy Nielsen, who formerly captained Sporting Kansas City to the 2013 MLS Cup title in his final season as a player, deployed a double substitution at halftime as Mac Steeves and Alex Davey replaced Jose Angulo and Mads Jorgensen. The swap prompted an instant impact, with the visitors scoring 30 seconds into the second period. Hugh Alexander Dixon advanced into the box and unleashed a shot that deflected off Mark Segbers and caromed off the foot of Camden Riley for an own goal.

Nagamura’s side restored their three-goal lead four minutes later when Freeman broke through in style. The 16-year-old was first to a loose ball after Hurtado was crowded out at the top of the box and took a neat touch past a Hartford defender before burying a thunderous volley into the roof of the net.

An entertaining shootout continued to entertain spectators, although SPR’s stranglehold was called into question once more in the 58th minute. Dixon chased a perfectly weighted Danny Barrera long ball and hooked a shot past Thompson to bring Hartford within two goals and record his second tally of 2019.

The plot took another unforeseen twist in the 74th minute when Thompson’s outlet pass from his own goal mouth was intercepted by Steeves and slotted home to make the score 4-3. Not long later, Sem de Wit’s bouncing volley off a well-orchestrated set piece was saved by the outstretched SPR keeper.

As Hartford committed numbers forward in search of an equalizer, the Rangers were equally dangerous on the counter attack. Late substitute Killian Colombie broke through the backline just two minutes into his cameo, but Due denied the Frenchman one-on-one to keep his side within striking distance.

The dying embers of the match blazed with drama, and Steeves had a decent look to level the score in second half stoppage time, but Riley intervened on the edge of the box to force a wayward strike from the Hartford forward.

A quick turnaround awaits the Rangers, who will travel north of the border this weekend to meet Ottawa Fury (7-3-8, 29 points) in a 6 p.m. CT kickoff at TD Place Stadium. The Eastern Conference clash will stream live from the Canadian capital on ESPN Plus.

2019 USL Championship
Game 18 of 34

Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Attendance: 521
Weather: 93 degrees and sunny

Score 1 2 F
Swope Park Rangers (3-9-6, 15 points) 3 1 4
Hartford Athletic (3-13-4, 13 points) 0 3 3

Swope Park Rangers: Brooks Thompson; Mark Segbers, Graham Smith (C), Camden Riley, Alexsander; Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal, Kelyn Rowe, Jimmy Medranda (Sean Karani 53'); Tyler Freeman (Killian Colombie 85'), Erik Hurtado (Ethan Vanacore-Decker 53'), Felipe Hernandez
Subs Not Used: John Pulskamp, Ayyoub Allach, Jake Davis, Jerome Ngom Mbekeli

Hartford Athletic: Frederik Due; Kyle Curinga, Philip Rasmussen (C), Sem De Wit, Ray Lee; Harry Swartz (Nicky Downs 57'), Ryan Williams, Mads Jorgensen (Alex Davey HT), Hugh Alexander Dixon; Danny Barrera, Jose Angulo (Mac Steeves HT)
Subs Not Used: Jacob Lissek, Wojciech Wojcik

Scoring Summary:
SPR -- Felipe Hernandez 8 (unassisted) 7'
SPR -- Kelyn Rowe 2 (Jimmy Medranda 1) 27'
SPR -- Kelyn Rowe 3 (Erik Hurtado 1) 30'
HFD -- Camden Riley (own goal) 46'
SPR -- Tyler Freeman 1 (unassisted) 50'
HFD -- Hugh Alexander Dixon 2 (Danny Barrera 3) 58'
HFD -- Mac Steeves (unassisted) 74'

Misconduct Summary:
HFD -- Danny Barrera (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 45+2'
SPR -- Sean Karani (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 61'
SPR -- Kelyn Rowe (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 63'
SPR -- Camden Riley (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 64'
HFD -- Alex Davey (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 69'
HFD -- Kyle Curinga (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 71'
SPR -- Mark Segbers (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 75'
HFD -- Philip Rasmussen (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 90+3'

Shots 15 14
Shots on Goal 9 4
Saves 2 5
Fouls 14 15
Offsides 1 5
Corner Kicks 4 2

Referee: Kevin Broadley
Assistant Referee: Matthew Rodman
Assistant Referee: Jack Ryan-Feldman
Fourth Official: Luis Tribaldo