Photo courtesy Nick Tre Smith / Swope Park Rangers
1. The Swope Park Rangers left no doubt as to their presence in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs with an emphatic 5-1 victory against the LA Galaxy II at Children’s Mercy Park that moved the side into the No. 7 seed for this year’s postseason and eliminated San Antonio FC. Needing just a draw to book a third consecutive playoff trip, the two-time defending Western Conference champion got another spectacular goal by Wan Kuzain from a free kick and additional tallies from Kharlton Belmar and Hadji Barry to defeat Los Dos, and pulled away late on to make a statement in its regular-season finale as it piled up chances when the game became stretched.
2. Bethlehem Steel FC also made its return to the postseason and claimed the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 1-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Rowdies that ended North Carolina FC’s hopes of a postseason berth and moved Bethlehem ahead of both Indy Eleven and Nashville SC in the Eastern Conference’s final standings. Michee Ngalina’s early goal proved the only tally in a game that had plenty of chances for more, but Steel FC wasn’t made to pay for the chances it had to add insurance to its lead by the Rowdies who had chances to find the net but were once again unable to capitalize on them.
3. The New York Red II made it a home sweep on Sunday evening with a 2-1 victory against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC that sent the 2016 USL Cup champion into the No. 5-seed for this year’s postseason and wrapped up a strong conclusion to the regular season that saw it end undefeated in its last six games. The Red Bulls II have seen a lot of new faces find their way with the side this season, and two of them provided the goals against the Hounds as Tom Barlow and Jared Stroud each found the net before Joe Greenspan’s stoppage-time consolation for Pittsburgh, and with the result New York earned a rematch from last season’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals with the No. 4-seed Charleston Battery next weekend.
MONTCLAIR, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls II scored once in either half to take a 2-1 victory against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at MSU Soccer Park and clinch the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs. New York’s Brian White had the first chance of the contest in the second minute with a low shot that was comfortably saved by Riverhounds SC goalkeeper Dan Lynd, while Pittsburgh’s Romeo Parkes tested New York shot-stopper Scott Levene with a shot from the left side of the penalty area to the near post 13 minutes later. Good chances were limited, however, until the Red Bulls II took the lead on the half-hour mark when Tom Barlow capitalized on a defensive mistake to steal possession 35 yards from goal and drive in for a low finish to the right corner of the net. Pittsburgh turned up the pressure to start the second half and almost leveled in the 53rd minute when Kenardo Forbes’ finish was cleared off the line by Red Bulls II defender Kevin Politz. New York almost grabbed a second three minutes later when it turned over possession in Pittsburgh’s half as Amando Moreno’s shot was just deflected wide of the left post. Riverhounds SC was awarded a penalty kick with 20 minutes to go when Jordan Dover was brought down in the area, but Forbes’ low shot to the right corner was saved by Levene and cleared to safety, and Parkes got in on a breakaway in the 81st minute but shot wide under pressure from recovering Red Bulls II defender Jordan Scarlett. The Red Bulls II wrapped up all three points in stoppage time, however, as Jared Stroud found space on the counterattack to drive a low finish into the left corner, and while Pittsburgh scored through Joe Greenspan with almost the final play of the game it was too little, too late to deny the hosts their victory.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Cristian Casseres Jr., New York Red Bulls II – Casseres consistently won possession in the center of the field as he won 17 of 23 duels overall and registered five tackles, three interceptions and two clearances to help New York claim a big victory.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Bethlehem Steel FC clinched its place in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs with a 1-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Goodman Stadium that eliminated North Carolina FC from playoff contention. Tampa Bay had the better of the early chances and Sebastian Guenzatti produced a shot in the 12th minute that forced a save from Steel FC goalkeeper John McCarthy, but Bethlehem took the lead a minute later as Michee Ngalina fired into the top-right corner from 12 yards after the hosts broke forward smartly to open space on the right side of the penalty area for the finish. Steel FC almost added a second in the 22nd minute when Anthony Fontana’s shot from the left side was turned wide of the near post by Rowdies goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald. Both teams hit the woodwork within the space of a minute just past the half-hour mark as first Kwadwo Poku hit the outside of the right post for the Rowdies before Fabian Herbers struck the right post on the ensuing counterattack for Steel FC. The Rowdies pressed hard for an equalizer early in the second half and Leo Fernandes had a good look from the left side of the penalty area saved by McCarthy, but Steel FC almost doubled their lead in the 57th minute when Herbers’ shot to the top-right corner from 20 yards was just turned over the crossbar by Fitzgerald. Steel FC’s Santi Moar was also denied by an outstanding goal-line clearance by Rowdies defender Tarek Morad after a counterattack had opened up a chance in the 66th minute, but while Tampa Bay had the better of the late pressure the visitors’ last chance on a deflected shot that Jaime Chavez could only redirect wide in stoppage time slide agonizingly wide to allow Steel FC to earn a solid victory to close the regular season ahead of its second consecutive trip to the playoffs.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Matthew Real, Bethlehem Steel FC – Real put in a stellar display on the Bethlehem backline with three tackles, four interceptions and six clearances while also winning 11 of 14 duels overall.
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The Swope Park Rangers swept into the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs with a 5-1 victory against the LA Galaxy II at Children’s Mercy Park that saw five different players find the net for the hosts. The Rangers almost grabbed an early lead as Galaxy II goalkeeper Justin Vom Steeg was called upon to keep out a low effort by Tyler Blackwood, but Los Dos’ Frank Lopez threatened with a shot that went just wide of the right post in the ninth minute. Swope Park took the lead in the 28th minute, however, when a free kick by Wan Kuzain from the right side dipped over the defensive wall and just inside the near post for another standout finish by the No. 3 selection in the 2018 USL 20 Under 20. The Rangers almost struck again in the 32nd minute when a deflection off a defender from Felipe Hernandez’s free kick was brilliantly kept out by Vom Steeg, but two minutes later Kharlton Belmar doubled the advantage with a low finish at the near post from the left after he had shrugged off the challenge of his defender. Hernandez almost added another soon after with a low free kick from the top of the penalty area to the bottom-right corner that Vom Steeg turned wide, while the Galaxy II’s Miguel Aguilar forced a good save by SPR goalkeeper Eric Dick as it headed toward the top-right corner four minutes before the break. Dick produced another good save on a near-post finish by Lopez off a corner from the right, but then the Rangers reasserted themselves in the second half and notched their third from the penalty spot in the 65th minute as Hadji Barry converted to the left corner after Hernandez had been brought down in the penalty area. Hernandez added a fourth with 14 minutes to go and the hosts struck again late through Wilson Harris before Jorge Hernandez pulled back a consolation goal for the Galaxy II to wrap up the scoring.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Wan Kuzain, Swope Park Rangers – Kuzain broke the scoring open with another spectacular free kick and was efficient once again in his distribution and winning possession in midfield for the hosts.