Photo courtesy of Swope Park Rangers
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The second-year side Swope Park Rangers, fresh off a trip to the 2016 USL Cup Finals, were behind the 8-ball early Saturday against OKC Energy FC at Children’s Mercy Victory Field. A cast of new Rangers players created a strong turnaround as Kharlton Belmar and Latif Blessing tallied on either side of halftime to earn a 3-1 victory. Loanee Daniel Salloi, who was with the Rangers last season, assisted the Blessing goal and then added one of his own in the 71st minute to put the match away. Energy FC’s Coady Andrews put the visiting club in front, but Swope Park sprung forward in a big way with three unanswered goals against an OKC defense anchored by goalkeeper Cody Laurendi, who had 12 clean sheets a year ago. It marked an impressive first victory for Rangers Head Coach Nikola Popovic, who assisted this side during the 2016 campaign.
24’ – OKC – Coady Andrews (Jose Barril)
42’ – SPR – Kharlton Belmar (Parker Maher)
62’ – SPR – Latif Blessing (Daniel Salloi)
71’ – SPR – Daniel Salloi (Christian Duke)
Three Things That Mattered:
1. Ghana winger Latif Blessing, who transferred from Liberty Professionals FC during the offseason, showcased his speed – and some celebratory creativity – midway through the second half, and his tally proved to be the difference maker. Daniel Salloi made a darting run down the left side and connected perfectly with Salloi who put some mustard on his shot to fire it past Energy FC goalkeeper Cody Laurendi. Blessing’s tally was in the middle of a strong scoring stretch of three goals in less than a 30-minute span.
2. Swope Park striker Kharlton Belmar could not appropriately follow up his 2015 USL Rookie of the Year season with the Portland Timbers 2. After a subpar 2016, he landed with the Rangers and he opened his account in strong fashion Saturday. Belmar’s 42nd-minute equalizer was an uplifting moment for a forward that hopes his speed and intangibles will have a significant impact for SPR. He came through late in the second half after Parker Maher set up him beautifully with a run from the left toward the end line. Once he eluded the OKC defense, Maher crossed in and Belmar finished with a composed redirect in a tight space to tie the score at 1-1.
3. An out-possessed Energy FC side was challenged on the defensive side, and the club uncharacteristically conceded three goals – something that happened only twice last season. OKC fell 4-0 to the Portland Timbers 2 and lost 3-0 to Swope Park during the month of September in 2016. Offensively, OKC will also need a boost moving forward. Coady Andrews had an important header off of Jose Barril’s corner kick, in effect making up for a Miguel Gonzalez chance that should have found the back of the net a bit earlier. The rest of the way, it was all Swope Park.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match:
Daniel Salloi, Swope Park Rangers – Salloi did the brunt of the work in setting up Latif Blessing’s go-ahead goal and then put things out of reach with a strong run and goal nine minutes later.
Swope Park Rangers vs. Portland Timbers 2 – March 29, 8:30 p.m. ET, Children’s Mercy Victory Field
OKC Energy FC at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – April 1, 8 p.m. ET, Weidner Field