By David Barr
Goals by Gustavo Vargas (14’) and Alex Harris (62’) propelled the Heartland Conference leading Tulsa Athletic to a 2-1 win over Little Rock Rangers at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock Saturday evening.
Multiple chances on corners failed to connect and a missed penalty kick in minute 57 that was saved by Tulsa keeper Bryson Reed of off the foot of Andy Stewart all added up to a frustrating evening in the capital city for Rangers.
“We did not execute in order to get a shot on goal,” Rangers manager Will Montgomery said after the loss speaking of set pieces. “Either the service into the box was not good enough or the connection head towards the goal was not good enough. We had multiple chances. It was really frustrating. Bottom line was that we did not execute effectively on set pieces and had a missed opportunity with the penalty kick.”
The first 20-minutes of the match, Rangers had difficulty stringing passes together through the midfield to establish any kind of possession control. Long passes on the turf at War Memorial offers spin and awkward bounces that are tough to control.
“That first 20-minutes, instead of us being comfortable with receiving the ball at their feet we were trying to go over the top. That’s not conducive in this stadium or this field. Because it’s not wide enough and it’s turf. If you kick the ball straight, it just continues to roll. So, we had to get you have time to make the adjustments to let remind them that they have the skill and the technical ability to come down and play our game, which is possession.”
The second half opened with a Stags flurry as the adjustments were put into motion. A quick shot by Alex Guadron followed by two corner kicks offered promise for the home side. Then the air was temporarily sucked out of the stadium as Reed stopped Stewart’s penalty shot and then quickly snuffed out the rebound.
Rangers pulled to within one goal at 2-1 in the 83rdminute as Donald Benamna took a long pass from midfield, settled the ball with his left and fired a rocket with his right foot that raced past Tulsa goalkeeper Byron Reed.
“Great goal! The ball was down the right side and he initiated the run. It was a good option. We sent the ball back, then played it forward and it connected really well. He brought it down and scored a great goal. He’s (Donald) one of those special players that we have each game that can potentially get a goal or can create opportunities for his teammates inside the attacking half. That was a great effort. We didn’t quit. It was just a very frustrating night.”
Rangers had an opportunity to pull ahead of Tulsa into first place in Heartland standings with a win but instead fall to 3-3-0 in conference play holding with nine-points while Tulsa increases their lead in the top spot remaining unbeaten on the season.
Next up for Little Rock is another opportunity at War Memorial as the host Club Atletico Saint Louis next Saturday evening with kickoff scheduled for 7pm.