PREVIEW: Seattle Sounders FC 2 preparing for tough test against Swope Park Rangers

Irvin Parra S2 Green 2017-07-17

Seattle Sounders FC 2 takes the field at Starfire Stadium once again on Thursday for a midweek USL Western Conference clash against Swope Park Rangers (7:30 p.m. PT, Livestream on The Rave Green will hope to avenge their 2-1 home loss to Orange County SC over the weekend by taking all three points against the Rangers, who were named the second-best team in the league in this week’s USL Power Rankings.

Swope Park, an affiliate of Sporting Kansas City, is in third in the West midway through the season with 35 points from just 17 matches.

SPR is incredibly well-balanced, combining a stingy defense with an athletic attack that thrives upon dominating possession — they average 59 percent this season — to generate quality chances. The 2016 USL runners-up have already garnered seven clean sheets this campaign, almost twice as many as S2, while finding the back of the net 29 times. The Rangers average 520.1 pass attempts per match, completing 83.6% of them. They complete 148.5 more passes per game than S2.

But what really makes SPR so lethal is the unique tactical tweaks the squad makes to a classic 4-3-3 formation. Striker Mark Gonzalez essentially operates as a false-nine, dropping into midfield to facilitate possession and pull defenders out of position. Meanwhile, their right-sided central midfielder, Lebo Moloto, pushes into the attack and occupies the space vacated by Gonzalez. Their two wingers, Kevin Oliveira (RW) and Nansel Selbol (LW), play polar opposite roles, with Selbol staying high and wide to attack 1-v-1 and Oliveira dropping deep and acting as an auxiliary central midfielder in Meloto’s spot.

The key for S2 will be to communicate constantly and remain organized defensively in order to account for the constant off-the-ball movement from the SPR players. Francisco Narbon and Ray Saari, in particular, will need to stay disciplined in order to track Gonzalez dropping into midfield and Meloto pushing into the attack. SPR will also provide a stern test for young center backs Rodrigue Ele and Sam Rogers, who must remain vigilant in order to nullify the Rangers’ complex attacking system.

Here are three storylines to watch.

Remain Compact Defensively

Swope Park brings a whole new meaning to the expression “possession with a purpose.” With a potent combination of technical ability and pace, they unbalance opponents by working the ball from side to side, pulling defenders out of position and creating gaps to attack. In order to nullify this strategy, S2 will need to bunker down and remain compact, solidifying the back line and restricting the amount of space between defense and midfield.

Hit Them On the Counter

What’s the best way to beat a team that dominates the ball as much as SPR? Sit back, defend as a unit and counterattack with speed and precision. Starfire Stadium is a relatively small field, which should restrict space for the Rangers to attack while also nullifying their speed advantage. Look for S2 to find the feet of David Olsen in transition because his hold-up play will give the rest of the team time to push numbers forward. S2 needs to force SPR to pass the ball from side to side while carefully selecting moments to hit on the break.

Official Debut for Azriel Gonzalez

Sounders Academy phenom Azriel Gonzalez, 16, signed his first contract with S2 on Monday, making him the youngest professional in club history. And although S2 will have something close to a full-strength roster, the U.S. youth international could make his home debut as a professional in front of the Sounders supporters on Thursday. In fact, he might be perfectly suited for this matchup. One of Gonzalez’s biggest strengths in his time in the Rave Green youth system has been his ability to gamble on defense, carefully selecting opportunities to win back the ball and exploit space on the counter.

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