Second Half Scoring Fury Give Rangers the Win Over Club Atletico St. Louis

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

Rangers Win It for the Moms, 3-1

By: Benjamin Peacock

On a gorgeously cool Mother’s Day evening at War Memorial Stadium, the Little Rock Rangers defeated Heartland Conference rivals Ozark FC 3-1.

The Rangers got on the board early with a smooth left wing pass from Donald Benamna to striker Alex Guadron. Guadron drove the ball in from the left corner of the 6 yard box to the upper right corner of the goal to make it 1-0 Rangers.

There were plenty of opportunities for Ozark in the first half, particularly for set piece goals, but a solid defensive effort and keen goalkeeping by Walid Birrou kept Ozark FC off the board in the first 45 minutes. 

In other first half action, defenseman Andy Stewart hammered a long ball from deep in the defensive third to just outside the 18 yard box that shook up the Ozark goalkeeper in a multi-player collision. Benamna took an undefended shot at 21′ that just sailed wide of the net. Right after that shot, Stewart collided midfield and came out to follow concussion protocol. He returned to the game shortly thereafter.

Ozark’s next opportunity came at 26′ with a set piece just outside the box. It went wide but resulted in a corner kick of which the ensuing scrum gave Ozark another corner. Guadron had a strong centered strike on goal at 32′ that was gathered by Ozark’s keeper. Ozark attempted their own similar shot at 36′ but was held off by Birrou.

The Rangers received the first yellow card of the match at 41′, giving Ozark another set piece just outside the box. The shot was off the mark. Just before the halftime whistle, Robel Dent centered a kick for Trevor Reed but it had a little too much on it to make the connection for a shot on goal.

As the teams went to the locker rooms, head coach Will Montgomery looked to minimize the opportunities given to Ozark FC. “We need better possession in midfield. Couple times our players were losing the ball in vital areas where they could get a quick goal,” Montgomery said.

The set pieces for Ozark continued with two early corner kicks that were quickly headed out by Ranger defenders, then a centered free kick on the edge of the box. In harmony with the first half, the Rangers struck early in the second with a sly strike by Benamna from the left side at 54′ to make it 2-0.

The ample corner opportunities for Ozark finally paid off at 60′ as the ball redirected just passed the outstretched hands of Birrou, to make the match 2-1. From there, the Rangers subbed out midfielder Trevor Reed for Sabelo in the 69th minute. Each team also earned a pair of yellow cards in the second half.

A hard play at midfield between Benamna and an Ozark defender took the forward out of the match. He lay on the pitch for several minutes as training staff attended to him and eventually a yellow card was issued for the shoulder drive into his head. Benamna was immediately taken off the pitch. Australian native Hayden Tucker replaced him.

In the closing minutes, the Rangers had a near goal when Guadron drew Ozark’s goalkeeper out and sent one in but the defensive line made the save. Not done yet, Dent passed to teammate Ben Watson who took a shot from about 20 yards and found the back of the net to make it 3-1.

“We got on a counter attack and Robel got on the ball. I knew he was looking for an option, so I made the run, trusting him to make the pass, and he made a perfect ball,” explained Watson.

The Rangers are 1-1 in Heartland Conference. They will head out on a series of road trips in the coming weeks, first to Springfield, MO to face Demize NPSL on May 18 at Lake Country Cooper Stadium. And then back to Missouri again for a Thursday night match (May 23) against Club Atletico St. Louis.

6′ Rangers 1 – Ozark FC 0 (Alex Guadron, Hot Springs; Donal Benamna-assist)

54′ Rangers 2 – Ozark FC 0 (Donald Benamna, Central African Republic)

60′ Rangers 2 – Ozark FC 1 (???)

87′ Rangers 3 – Ozark FC 1 (Ben Watson, Sherman, TX; Robel Dent-assist)

Rangers Drop Heartland Conference Opener, Turn Their Focus Towards US Open Cup

By Ryan Stallings

The Little Rock Rangers arrived in Oklahoma this past weekend looking to carry their unbeaten streak in the preseason through their first Heartland Conference match against rival Tulsa Athletic. Tulsa came into the match looking to cut short Little Rock’s two-game win streak against them, while the Stags were intent on finding their first positive away points versus the A’s.

The opening minute was a textbook sequence for the visitors, dominating the possession with several disciplined passes, resulting in a shot on goal early that was collected by the Tulsa GK. The A’s came right back, collecting two corner opportunities and taking advantage of a congested goalbox to drive in the opening goal of the match just inches outside of Little Rock GK Walid Birrou’s outstretched grasp in just the 3rd minute.

The remainder of the first half would see Little Rock hold a slight edge in both possession time and in shots, while Tulsa remained content to use their knowledge of the rough pitch to wait for quick counter opportunities. The Stags continued to trail 0-1 at the halftime whistle.

Opening the second half, the Rangers remained disciplined, patiently continuing to try and build their attacking play from the back. Their efforts were rewarded in the 49th minute when Trevor Reed, a 4th year Rangers player and Cabot native, pounced on a cross in front of goal, just beating the Tulsa GK and equalizing to bring Little Rock even with Tulsa at 1-1.

The two sides would then escalate their pace, each seeking a second score to gain the lead. The home club would find that goal thanks on another of their quick counters on the day, turning the Little Rock defender on a through pass that the Tulsa forward then played neatly over Birrou for the score.

With Tulsa now regaining the lead, Little Rock began to flag, conceding most of the possession to the A’s from the 62nd minute onward while trying to find a counter opportunity in hopes of equalizing once more. That equalizer wasn’t meant to be. Instead, the incessant pressure Tulsa executed for the final 30 minutes resulted in a third score for the home side in the 86th minute, increasing their lead to what would be an insurmountable 3-1 advantage at the final whistle.

Considering the events and conditions of the match afterward, Birrou remains optimistic about the team and their ability going forward. “With injuries and players still awaiting their league paperwork to be approved, we managed to hold our own with just three to four starters playing a majority of the match, and in less than ideal and unfamiliar pitch conditions. We have a long season ahead of us, and our conference title defense remains in our hands,” Birrou said.

The Stags will have only a few days to rest, as they return to the pitch this Wednesday night, hosting the NTX Rayados of Dallas, TX at Episcopal Collegiate School in Little Rock in the first round of the 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. This will be the first match in Open Cup history in which a club from the State of Arkansas is represented. The Rangers gained this achievement for the 2019 tournament with their impressive their 2018 postseason campaign, qualifying through their top five finish in the National Premier Soccer League last year.

Little Rock Rangers 1 – Tulsa Athletic 3

Goals:

3’ – Little Rock 0 – Tulsa 1 (Joe Luiz)
49’ – Little Rock 1 – Tulsa 1 (Trevor Reed)
62’ – Little Rock 1 – Tulsa 2 (Aboubakr Diallo)
86’ – Little Rock 1 – Tulsa 3 (Alex Harris)

2019 Roster Announcement

The Little Rock Rangers announce the 2019 roster. With the series of pre-season matches behind them, head coach Will Montgomery and his staff have made a solid roster of returning and new players alike.

Ever on the road visiting matches to watch the talent from across the state, Montgomery concentrates on assessing the roles the team needs and then inviting players to be evaluated in training sessions and matches in pre-season. The team hosted open tryouts in December 2018, as well. The National Premier Soccer League allows for a 28-man final roster. Under certain circumstances, like for injury, the team can be granted an extra player or two.

Marking their return to the Rangers’ fourth season, by position, are:

Goal Keeper: Walid Birrou, Dylan Perdue

Forwards/Wingers: Donald Benamna, Alex Guadron, Sabelo Hlongwane

Midfielders: Ulises Caba Cordova, Trevor Reed, Daishi Uekuri

Backs: Carlos Beltran, Nick Doyle (captain), Jaden Hoth, Tyler Mackenzie, Arne Meyer, Joseph Oliver, Ade Oshikoya, Nick Vasquez, Ben Watson

Newcomers to the squad include:

Goal Keeper: Jake Askew

Forwards/Wingers: Lance Crabtree, Robel Dent, Blain Hickman, Eric Ramirez

Midfielders: Nyasha Dube, Leo Martinez, Julio Martins, Hayden Tucker

Backs: Ryan Blair, Jack Selig, Andy Stewart

Montgomery offered some insight into the rookie selections. Askew was chosen for his shot stopping ability and presence in the goal. Ramirez was selected as a “crafty” winger with a good left foot. Hickman was an absolute standout at Ouachita Baptist University where he was named male athlete of the year, all-central region, and first team for the conference. Crabtree is tall, fast, and will score goals, as he showed in pre-season. Dent is actually returning to the team from 2017 and is a proven goal scorer with high energy and dynamic.

In the midfield, Tucker’s stamina will make him a standout as he gains chemistry with the team, while Martins and Dube will add to the attacking threat, along with Martinez ability to dispossess with good foot work. Stewart is large and in charge on the backline, while Selig and Blair both fill needed roster depth.

For more information about the players, click here. A few in-depth profiles are also available for returning players as part of an on-going series. The Rangers began Heartland Conference play Sunday in Tulsa, OK, having reached far into the NPSL playoffs in 2018 as South Region Finalists and will compete in the US Open Cup Round 1 on Wednesday at Episcopal Collegiate School.

Pre-Season Closes Out With 1-1 Draw

The Little Rock Rangers pre-season came to a close with a 1-1 draw against Bugeaters FC of the United States Amateur Soccer Association visiting from Nebraska. This was the third of three friendlies the Rangers played at War Memorial Stadium.

The first half featured much more action than the Rangers saw in their previous two matches, especially for goalkeeper Walid Birrou, who in the prior weeks saw no more than three touches in a match. Defense shined on both sides the majority of the first half. There was plenty of fast-paced, physical, back-and-forth action with several shots taken on both sides.

The Bugeaters had their first major chance on a breakout pass at 15′ but the backline duo of team captain Nick Doyle and Andy Stewart, getting his first cap with the Rangers, quickly dispossessed the ball. A set piece opportunity came at 19′ but the Rangers wall blocked the shot. The Rangers quickly gained control and sent it down to striker Alex Guadron. His shot, like the ones that came before, was handled by Bugeaters’ netminder Jack Bennett. Then defenseman Ben Watson fired off a banger from a corner kick that surprised Bennet yet he still made the block.

A 24′ minute Ranger set piece shot sailed over the net. Guadron took a shot off a spot foul at 29′ from roughly 30 yards out, but put a little too much on it sending it over the goal. Birrou easily handled shots at 30′ and 33′. Two great looks at the goal came at 36′, that stretched Bennett to his full length, and 37′ with a narrowly missed header by Doyle.

Doyle then took a free kick into the box that drew a penalty kick call for the Rangers at 41′. Guadron took the kick but was denied by the crossbar. Redemption came for Guadron soon after when he received a pass from Doyle in the corner, cut the ball back, and sunk the goal right before the half ended.

The plentiful, unfinished opportunities were the focus of head coach Will Montgomery going into the locker room. “We’ve had a couple chances on our set pieces as far as corner kicks that we need to be more diligent about executing. We missed several good opportunities where we could have got a go-ahead goal and we need to be better at that,” Montgomery said.

The Bugeaters came back out aggressively despite the momentum killing goal. At 48′ when the ball went out of play, the field official required Guadron to leave the pitch to address some blood on his jersey. This left the Rangers a man down and Bugeaters forward Rob Wiseman centered a shot from the wing that deflected off the shoulder of Stewart into the goal to tie the game.

After 228 minutes of a blank sheet in pre-season play, it was the first goal given up by the Rangers.

That is where the game would remain, as the Rangers saw five substitutes: Trevor Reed for Lance Crabtree (57′), Blain Hickman for Guadron (63′), Jack Selig for Ryan Blair (71′), Julio Martins for Ulises Caba Cordova (82′), and Dan Amaro for Nyasha Dube (88′).

“Tonight we had good competition that will help us get ready for next week,” Birrou said after the match. “I had some more touches and had a goal allowed but better it happened today than the next game.”

Indeed the Rangers are now set for conference play on the road vs Tulsa Atletico on May 5. The team will also host the first ever US Open Cup match played in Arkansas. This is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious tournament, allowing teams from all levels to compete. For the first round, the Rangers drew NTX Rayados and will face them May 8 at 7:00 pm. To meet the field requirements, the game will be held at Episcopal Collegiate School. For more information about the US Open Cup, click here.

45′ – Rangers 1, Bugeaters FC 0 (Alex Guadron, Assist-Nicholas Doyle)

49′ – Rangers 1, Bugeaters FC 1 (own goal, Rob Wiseman)

Pre-Season Opponents Remain Scoreless as the Rangers Best Boca FC, 4-0.

By Benjamin Peacock

The Little Rock Rangers continued to hold their opponents scoreless as they met Boca FC of the Gulf Coast Premier League on a rainy Saturday evening at War Memorial Stadium. Much like their match last week, the Rangers got on the board early as Donald Benamna fed a pass center to striker Lance Crabtree at the six minute mark.

Ten minutes later Ben Watson blistered a pass from midfield down the wing to Crabtree who sent the ball toward the face of the goal. The ball deflected off the Knights defender and snuck in at the corner for an own goal to put the Rangers up 2-0.

Crabtree joined the team for training in February and was among several players getting match time tonight as the Rangers look to finalize their roster before conference play. Unfortunately, the second goal came at a price as Crabtree left the match with a lower body injury. The Rangers played short-handed for six minutes until forward Alex Guadron checked into the game.

Crabtree described his preparation for the match. “My wingers Donald and Sabelo told me when they get it out wide to tackle into the box as fast and hard as I can. Get my foot on the end of the cross and they’ll get me some goals,” he said.

Goal number three came at 44 minutes as, once again, Benamna fed a pass inward, this time to Guadron who slid the ball in sharply to make the game 3-0. In the meantime, goalkeeper Walid Birrou saw only one shot on goal in the first half that came in stoppage. Head coach Will Montgomery liked what he saw from his players and planned on focusing in on a couple adjustments.

“We need to do a better job of our unforced errors–passing the ball to opposition and more service inside the 18,” Montgomery said at the half. “We were showing a little fatigue there at the end and need to take care of the ball in midfield. My [midfielders] did a double team and they got past us, allowing them to get a shot off.”

In the second half, Montgomery made three additional sub outs of veterans for roster candidates. Miguel Gomez came in for Trevor Reed at 59 minutes. Birrou came out at 71 minutes to give Jake Askew some net time. And Eric Ramirez subbed in for Sabelo at 81 minutes.

The final goal was scored in the 77th minute when Jake Selig sent a breakaway pass to a free and open Ulises Caba Cordova who froze the Knights goalkeeper with a soft bouncer. 4-0 Rangers. In the end, the Knights made three shots on goal to challenge Birrou and Askew.

The next time the Rangers take the pitch will be April 28 at 6:00 pm when they host Bugeaters FC for the final preason match. The final roster for the men’s team will be set in the coming weeks and then the Rangers must turn their attention to Heartland Conference and US Open Cup matches in early May.

LITTLE ROCK RANGERS 4 – BOCA FC KNIGHTS 0

Goals

6′ – Rangers 1 – Boca FC 0  (Lance Crabtree, Assist-Donald Benamna)

16′ – Rangers 2 – Boca FC 0 (Own Goal, Lance Crabtree)

44′ – Rangers 3 – Boca FC 0 (Alex Guadron, Assist-Donald Benamna)

77′ – Rangers 4 – Boca FC 0 (Ulises Caba Cordova)

Jazic To Assist On U17 US National Team

We’re so excited to finally announce that our own Technical Director and Academy Director Ante Jazic has accepted a assistant coaching position on the U17 US National Team!!! Don’t worry Academy players and parents, he’s not going anywhere. He’ll just be gone a few days here and there, however he will still be very present in our youth programming and training. This is such good news for soccer in Central Arkansas!!!

Rangers Open 2019 In A Strong Way

By Benjamin Peacock

Three minutes is all it took for the Little Rock Rangers to put one in net for the first goal of 2019 in a pre-season match against Lone Star Conference team Tyler FC. The Rangers won 3-0 in a match that featured dominant possession and a plethora of shots.

The Rangers quickly dispossessed Tyler FC from the kickoff in a 4-3-3 formation. The first goal was scored by forward Sabelo Hlongwane, returning for his second season with the Rangers, and it set the tone for the entire match.

“I worked really hard in preparation for this season and to start out with a goal means all that hard work is paying off,” Sabelo said of getting the first goal.

The Rangers held possession for nearly the entire first half. Keeper Walid Birrou only had one challenge that came at 40′ when midfielder Nyasha Dube was booked and Tyler FC took a free kick just past midfield. Off the boot of Tyler’s goalkeeper, who came all the way out to take the kick, the ball sailed straight into Birrou’s hands.

“We have had plenty of opportunities to score a second goal. We have to be more clinical in doing that,” head coach Will Montgomery said at the half.

Much as it did not take long to net one in the first half, winger Donald Benamna added to the Rangers lead shortly into the second half after a foul was called for holding on midfielder Trevor Reed. Benamna sent the rocket in from around 28 yards to make it 2-0.

Montgomery made his first substitution at 54′ with Blain Hickman coming in for striker Alex Guadron, who had several aggressive shots in the first half. Hickman had a nice chance at 60′ that rolled on the outer edge of the net, just off the fingertips of the Tyler keeper. The resulting corner kick went to Benamna who redirected with a header to catch the upper corner of the goal for his second tally of the night.

Montgomery made three more subs with Dan Amaro, Sam Tejada, and Jack Butler respectively giving Benamna, Dube, and Sabelo the rest of the night off. After the match, Montgomery was happy with the additional pressure his team put on Tyler FC.

“I told them to press them real hard, and we were successful in winning possession of the ball in the attacking half and I was very pleased with that,” Montgomery said. “Now we have to finish our goals. Finish the opportunities they are giving us.”

With the early goals in both halves, whatever gameplan Tyler FC had for the Rangers was put into disarray, resulting in the clean sheet for Birrou. Next, the Rangers will face Boca FC at War Memorial on April 13 at 7:00 pm in the second of three pre-season match ups. The friendly matches not only help the coaching staff finalize the team roster, but also provide the invaluable experience of building team cohesion.

“This is how we determine whether we are going to be ready for the season or not,” Benamna said. “It was a good test for us to get into the momentum of the league.”

Click HERE to view photos from the match.

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