By Benjamin Peacock
The Little Rock Rangers defeated Club Atletico St. Louis in a Heartland Conference match at United Sports Legacy Training Center on Thursday evening, 4-1. The Rangers now own a 2-1 conference record.
The first half certainly did not foreshadow the end result, as the Bluebirds stayed a step ahead of the Stags, beginning with a shot on goal at 3′. There was an exchange of shots, with Rangers goalkeeper Walid Birrou saving four in the first 25 minutes. But then, Club Atletico struck from the corner, sending the ball off Rangers defender Ben Watson and into the net for an own goal, putting the Bluebirds up 1-0.
The Rangers had ample opportunities of their own, having four corner kicks, but the Bluebirds managed to stifle any solid attacking chances with aggressive dispossession in the box and forcing Ranger turnovers in the attacking third.
The half time adjustments made by head coach Will Montgomery, along with his substitution of Daishi Uekuri, had the Rangers coming out firing on all cylinders. A throw in by Watson at 48′ into the 6 yard box was headed by a St. Louis defender toward forward Ulises Caba Cordova who connected with the ball with a bicycle kick to score and tie the game 1-1.
This provided the momentum the Rangers needed to unlock their offensive burst. Forward Donald Benamna, alive and well after a scary head injury in the match against Ozark FC on May 12, weaved his way through several defenders to fire off a banger from the edge of the box at 51′ to give the Ranger the lead 2-1.
Five minutes later, Trevor Reed, who had subbed in for Caba Cordova, made a pass to an undefended Ben Watson up the right wing. Watson centered the ball in to striker Lance Crabtree. Crabtree’s soft touch just caught the fingertips of the Atletico’s keeper to allow the ball to edge into the net and the Rangers now had a 3-1 lead.
The Rangers were not quite done with their offensive fury, forcing St. Louis’ goalkeeper to make a masterful flying save off a Rangers corner kick. Three minutes later, at the 69′ mark, a dangerous turnover by St. Louis gave Watson the opportunity to center the ball to Reed. The St. Louis keeper saved the shot but the ball rebounded straight to Sabelo Hlongwane and Sabelo sank it. The Rangers now commanded the match 4-1.
Other substitutions in the second half included Robel Dent for Crabtree, Jack Selig for Ryan Blair, and Sebastian Kennedy, a new addition to the roster this past week, for Sabelo. Reed came off at 79′ due to an apparent head injury, leaving the Rangers down a man until he cleared concussion protocol and rejoined the match.
St. Louis didn’t let up in the closing minutes, narrowly missing a set piece shot from about 22 yards and then a corner kick in stoppage that was handled by Birrou.
The Rangers head to Harber High School to play the second match of the Downriver Derby against Ozark FC on June 1 at 7:30 pm. They will then make up their cancelled match against Demize NPSL on June 4 at Lake Country Cooper Stadium.
26′ Club Atletico 1 – Rangers 0 (Rangers own goal)
48′ Club Atletico 1 – Rangers 1 (Caba-Cordova)
51′ Club Atletico 1 – Rangers 2 (Benamna)
59′ Club Atletico 1 – Rangers 3 (Crabtree)
69′ Club Atletico 1 – Rangers 4 (Sabelo)
71′ – yellow card STL
93′ – yellow card LR