Soccer in the Heartland 6/19/19

by David Barr



Rangers by the numbers …

  • Tonight’s match versus FC Wichita will be the first meeting between the two clubs this season. They will play twice in 10-days.
  • Donald Benamna leads the Heartland Conference with five goals and is sixth overall in the NPSL South Region.
  • After scoring eight times in their first three matches, Rangers has tallied five-goals in their last four contests.
  • Little Rock is 2-2 away from War Memorial Stadium this season. After tonight’s match in Wichita, Rangers will play the remaining two games of 2019 at home.

Last Week in the Heartland

  • Club Atletico Saint Louis 1   Little Rock Rangers 1
  • Tulsa Athletic 1  Demize NPSL 1
  • FC Wichita 1   Ozark FC 1


This Week in the Heartland

  • Wednesday, June19,2019
  • Little Rock Rangers at FC Wichita   7pm
  • Tulsa Athletic at Ozark FC   7:30pm
  • Saturday, June 22, 2019
  • Demize NPSL at Ozark FC   7:30pm
  • Sunday, June 23, 2019
  • Club Atletico St. Louis at Demize NPSL  7pm

Rangers Draw Against Club Atletico 1-1, Hold Second Place with Three Games Remaining

By Benjamin Peacock

It was a story of missed opportunities at War Memorial Stadium Saturday evening, leading to a 1-1 draw for the Little Rock Rangers and Club Atletico St Louis. The Rangers conference record now stands at 3-3-1, tenuously holding the Rangers in second place in the Heartland Conference (with Demize NPSL one point behind but with an extra match to play).

The first half was dominated by possession trades and plenty of passing, but few shots on goal. Defenseman Andy Stewart shined on the back line making several saves in the penalty box to keep the scoresheet clean for St. Louis. Striker Donald Benamna made his presence known in the 40th minute with two successive shots, but both were denied.

Head coach Will Montgomery talked about what needed change to gain more quality chances.

“We need to be more patient in midfield. Make sure we are creating space for the other midfield players that are inside. If we don’t pick up the ball, then we clear the space and allow the other midfield player to get it,” explained Montgomery.

The second half did not start out in the Ranger’s favor. Benamna took a hit in the penalty box and had to leave the field to an apparent shoulder injury in the 49th minute. While the Rangers played down a man, St. Louis struck, netting the first goal of the match.

Striker Alex Guadron subbed on for Benamna in the 54th minute and he quickly took a shot one minute later that sailed over the crossbar. The Rangers had a good look at 62’ when the St. Louis goalkeeper was pulled out, leaving the net wide open but the shot did not land. The subsequent corner kick for the Rangers by forward Sabelo was centered and forward Lance Crabtree, using his height and verticality, headed the ball in goal to tie the game 1-1.

Ulises Caba Cordova subbed in at 63’ for midfielder Trevor Reed and soon received the match’s first yellow card. Guadron fired off another shot but it was stopped by the goalkeeper, but the Rangers were definitely seeing more opportunities. Another two shots were taken by Sabelo and Guadron in the 76th.

Montgomery put on two more fresh pairs of legs with Robel Dent and Hayden Tucker for Crabtree and Sabelo. The game entered stoppage and the Rangers had a least three good opportunities to get late winner, but every ball sailed wide or over the goal.

Jaden Hoth, who played midfield tonight rather than his usual backline position, talked about some of the frustration from his new vantage point.

“I felt we were able to possess a little more at times but just not as effective going forward,” Hoth said. “They were well organized. But ultimately our final ball was lacking at times—they’d be a little short or a little off. We did have some chances that we should have capitalized on.”

With just three regular season matches remaining and every point needed, the Stags have a short rest and head to Wichita, Kansas on Wednesday for their first meeting with FC Wichita (0-1-5). The match will be streamed on the Rangers’ website and mobile app. The team will then get 10 days rest and face Wichita again at home on June 29 at 7:00 pm.

52’ Little Rock Rangers 0 – Club Atletico St Louis 1

63’ Little Rock Rangers 1 – Club Atletico St Louis 1 (Crabtree, Sabelo-assist)

Soccer in the Heartland 6/13/19

by David Barr



Rangers by the numbers …

  • Rangers striker Donald Benamna currently sits fifth in the NPSL South Region in goals scored with five.
  • Benamna also is sixth in the Region averaging one-goal per contest through Little Rock’s first five matches.
  • Ben Watson is among 10-players who have started every game so far this season for their respective clubs in the South Region.
  • Little Rock sits second in the Heartland table with nine-points
  • The Rangers have scored the second most goals in the conference so far with 12 – one tally behind table leader Tulsa Athletic.
  • Rangers have scored the sixth most goals as a team in the NPSL’s South Region

Last Week in the Heartland

Tulsa Athletic 2   Little Rock Rangers 1

Club Atletico Saint Louis 5   Ozark FC 0

FC Wichita 1  Demize NPSL 1


This Week in the Heartland

Club Atletico Saint Louis at Little Rock Rangers   7pm

Tulsa Athletic at Demize NPSL   7:30pm

FC Wichita at Ozark FC   7:30pm

Rangers With Plenty of Chances, But Can’t Top Tulsa

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.


Rangers Victorious Over Demize NPSL, Hold 2nd Place in Conference

Storms pass, rivers crest, referees are found, and the Little Rock Rangers traveled to Springfield, MO to make up a cancelled match against Heartland Conference rivals Demize NPSL on Wednesday night. The Rangers won 2-0 and now hold second place in the conference with a record of 3-2.

The Stags were extremely aggressive from the starting whistle taking early shots before the clock reached double digits.  Possession was primarily theirs for most of the first half. This paid off in the 24th minute with a beautiful pass from forward Alex Guadron to Donald Benamna to give the Rangers the early lead 1-0.

The goal may have woken up Demize a bit as they started pressuring the Rangers defense but never really got into the box or got a solid chance on goal. Trevor Reed subbed in for Ulises Caba Cordova who appeared to have pulled up from a hamstring strain. The halftime score remained 1-0.

At the half, Robel Dent was subbed on for Alex Guadron and Demize looked to have adjusted their game plan to soften the Rangers’ pressure. The Rangers appeared to have avoided a penalty kick call and then Reed made his presence known not only with a brilliant block on a rebounded chance but also two shots on goal at 62 and 63 minutes.

Benamna went full Benamna on the Demize backline, threading his way through them as a one-man attacking force into the penalty area, sinking the ball past the goalkeeper in the 78th minute. 2-0 Rangers.

Additional substitutions in the second half included Carlos Beltran for Daishi Uekuri and, during stoppage time, Jake Askew came in for Walid Birrou who took a hard hit and had to be assisted off the field by staff.

Solely holding on to second place, the Rangers next face number one ranked Tulsa Athletic at War Memorial Stadium on Saturday at 7:00 pm for an extremely important three points.

24′ Demize NPSL 0 – Little Rock Rangers 1 (Benamna, Guadron-assist)

78′ Demize NPSL 0 – Little Rock Rangers 2 (Benamna)

Rangers Lose the Match But Win the Downriver Derby

The second half to the Downriver Derby took place in Springdale, AR with Ozark FC coming out on top for the match 2-1. The derby and Moonshine Jug trophy go to Little Rock Rangers on goal aggregate for 2019.

As the Arkansas River rises and our thoughts are with the people affected, the two teams met at Har-ber High School with a first half that really just did not see a whole lot of aggressive action. From the vantage point of a Facebook Live stream via a cellphone (the host team did not have a stream available), it seemed the Rangers had their chances but could not connect passes or complete the shot on goal.

It was not until the closing minutes of the first half with a corner kick headed in by captain Nicholas Doyle did the scoring begin. The Rangers went to halftime with a 1-0 lead.

The second half was much of the same. Two of the Rangers strong strikers, both Alex Guadron (returning from an ankle injury) and Donald Benamna just could not make that finishing connection to the net. Frustration set in on the squad as players perhaps began to overthink and force plays.

This opened the opportunity for Ozark late in the game, scoring in the 81st and 90th minute to take the lead and win the match.

The Rangers hold a 2-2 Heartland Conference record now and will be traveling back up to Demize NPSL on Wednesday to make up the game cancelled last week due to referee availability. Demize knocked off top-ranked FC Wichita 3-1 on Thursday, so the Rangers will certainly need to figure out their midfield possession and offensive finish.

Our next home match at War Memorial Stadium is Saturday, June 8 at 7:00 pm vs Tulsa Athletic.

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


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.