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
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)