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Keys to the Cup: Swope Park Rangers

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 11/10/17, 10:48AM EST


Rangers look to reverse defeat a year ago in USL Cup

Photo courtesy Chris Ortiz / Swope Park Rangers

The Swope Park Rangers have already made history this postseason, becoming the first team in the USL’s modern era to reach the USL Cup in back-to-back seasons. On Monday night they’ll have achieve another piece of history when they face Louisville City FC at Slugger Field, with the visiting team yet to have taken victory in the previous six editions of the championship game.

As noted in our look at Louisville’s keys to success on Monday night, the Rangers and City like to play a pretty similar style, with a preference to hold possession and dictate terms of the game. Here are three things to watch for as the Rangers look to lift USL Cup for the first time.


Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC

The Rangers got a lot of good production from rookie full back Colton Storm over the course of the season, and matchup that will pit Storm and Parker Maher against Louisville’s wingbacks Kyle Smith and Oscar Jimenez could be a key for both teams on Monday night. Storm has recorded the most crosses of any player in Swope Park’s ranks, while notching 13 key passes, as he has teamed up with Kharlton Belmar and Kevin Oliveira down the right side.

The pockets of space in the left and right corners of the Louisville defense, utilizing the speed of Belmar and Tyler Pasher on the left, could be crucial areas for Swope Park to attack. If the Rangers can get in behind the Louisville wingbacks, it would offer a chance for Storm and Parker Maher on the left to join the attack, and potentially create a 3-on-2 situation. That in turn could open passing channels, and lead to chances like this against the Portland Timbers 2 earlier this season.


Photo courtesy Chris Ortiz / Swope Park Rangers

James Musa wasn’t called into New Zealand’s squad for the country’s intercontinental playoff against Peru for a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup that kicks off on Saturday in Wellington, New Zealand, but his omission from that’s squad left the Rangers with one of their best players available for Monday night’s contest.

Musa’s passing has been excellent all season, but as important when the Rangers take on Louisville will be his ability to read the play and provide help as Swope Park tries to limit the opportunities for Brian Ownby to continue his hot streak this postseason. Ownby’s three goals in three games have him tied for lead in the USL Cup Playoffs, making him a player Swope Park will have to pay close attention to.

Musa’s success as a ball-winner in the defensive third, with Christian Duke fulfilling a similar role slightly higher up the field, sees him lead the Rangers with 66 interceptions, and he has also posted strong rates in won tackles (72 percent), duels (63 percent) and aerial duels (80 percent). After earning an MLS contract with Sporting Kansas City in midseason, another big display could go a long way to stifling Louisville’s strong attack and helping the visitors claim victory.


Photo courtesy Chris Ortiz / Swope Park Rangers

One of the hallmarks of both Swope Park and Louisville this season has been the great in-game adjustments the sides have made, and the ability of substitutes to impact a game positively upon entry. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Swope Park (37) and Louisville (36) sat in the top three in the league in second-half goals during the regular season.

For the Rangers, the ace in the hole will almost certainly be Nansel Selbol, whose nine goals put him second on the team despite the fact that he’s started only 18 games this season. The 20-year-old Nigerian, formerly of the SKC Academy, has provided a jolt of energy whenever he’s come into a game either at halftime or during the second half. Maybe the best example of that this season was in the Rangers’ 2-2 draw against Real Monarchs SLC, when Selbol came on as a halftime substitute to rally the hosts back to earn a point against the eventual regular season champions.

With Tyler Pasher and Kharlton Belmar solidly fixed in the wide positions in SPR’s 4-2-3-1 system going into the final, don’t be surprised to see Selbol at some point in the second half to either help cement the Rangers’ position, or help lead a fightback.

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