The road trip rolls on for Sounders FC 2 (9-17-4, 31 points) with an away match against Swope Park Rangers (16-8-7, 55 points) on Wednesday, October 11 (5:30 p.m. PT, live-stream on SoundersFC.com). After a disappointing 1-0 loss to Tulsa Roughnecks on Saturday, in which S2 dominated possession but were unable to find the back of the net, the Rave Green will look to bounce back with a win over one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
In the prior meeting between these two sides, a 2-0 win for SPR at Starfire Stadium on July 20, S2 started three 16-year-olds from the Academy and fielded Lorenzo Ramos, a holding midfielder, at right back, making it difficult to draw any concrete conclusions. With a number of First Team players available, and Denso Ulysse and Steven Whyte as the likely outside backs, Wednesday’s fixture should be a drastically different affair.
Swope Park, an affiliate of Sporting Kansas City, is a rather complete team, blending a resolute defense with a dynamic attack capable of unbalancing opponents with their metronomic passing. Much like their parent club, the Rangers will roll out a 4-3-3 that relies on the mobility and constant off-the-ball movement of their front three.
What makes the Rangers’ system so unique is the role of the striker, who buzzes all over the pitch, pulling defenders out of position and creating gaps for the rest of the attack to exploit. The rest of the team’s shape is predicated on the striker’s movement, with wingers dropping into midfield and central midfielders pushing forward to occupy the vacated space.
The Rave Green will like their chances on Wednesday, as SPR is in the midst of a relatively poor string of results, dropping points in their last two outings. S2’s attack has generated a ton of chances in recent outings, but have struggled in the finishing phase. If they can find an early goal, the floodgates will open for an offense that’s gone unrewarded for their dynamic play of late.
Here are two tactical matchups to watch.
Run the Channels
In order for SPR to dominate possession in each match, they push their full-backs, Colton Storm and Tyler Pasher, high up the pitch, creating numerical advantages on the flanks. This leaves acres of space behind them for the center backs and holding midfielder to patrol. So, when S2 wins the ball back in midfield, look for Felix Chenkam to start central before running the channels. This will pull one of the center backs out of the middle, leaving an already thin defense vulnerable to runs up the gut from the likes of Zach Mathers, Henry Wingo, Shandon Hopeau and Guy Edoa.
Oklahoma City Energy’s recent 4-1 clobbering of the Rangers should provide a successful blueprint for S2. In the match, the Energy routinely played quick, incisive passes behind Swope Park’s back line, forcing them to defend in transition. Since SPR relies on unique attacking rotations to unbalance opponents, they’re often left exposed and out of position when they turn the ball over. This is a recipe for success for players like Chenkam, Hopeau and Mathers, who rely on clever movement and finding space to create chances. As the loss to OKC proved, the Rangers are susceptible to early crosses from midfield, since their back four utilizes a relatively high line. Look for Ulysse and Whyte to pump early crosses into the box, forcing the hosts to defend while facing their own goal, a nightmare for defenders at any level.
The Rangers use an incredibly free-flowing, organic system that aims to unbalance opponents with high-volume passing -- they average 522 pass attempts per game, completing 83% of them -- and confound markers by having players pop up in unusual spots all over the pitch. Therefore, it’s paramount that the S2 center backs and central midfielders communicate constantly. If the forward, Kharlton Belmar -- who leads the team with 14 goals -- drops into midfield, and if one of the center backs goes with him, other needs to slide across with the outside backs pinching in to restrict space. Fortunately for S2, the likes of Brian Nana-Sinkam, Ray Saari and Francisco Narbon all have incredibly high soccer IQs, and will be well-equipped to deal with the dizzying runs of Swope Park’s front three.