The Little Rock Rangers had been in this situation before: The final game of the regular season, at home, versus Tulsa Atletico with the winner hosting the first round of the Heartland Conference Playoffs. Last year, the Rangers fell to the squad from Tulsa but 2018 is Little Rock’s year. The Rangers downed Tulsa Atletic 2-0 and will host their first home playoff game in team history on Wednesday night.
For the past two years, these two sides have been neck and neck in the standings. Going into Saturday’s match, each side had 18 points and were tied for second on the table. Throughout most of the match, the action was much like the standings, deadlocked. With time winding down and the score still knotted at zero, something needed to give. In the 79th minute, Rangers’ keeper, Walid Birrou, made a save diving to his right. Birrou then punted the ball down the right side of the pitch where Alex Guadron was waiting. Guadron won the ball from the Tulsa defender from 22 yards out before sidestepping another Atletico defender and shooting from the right-center side of the pitch, 11 yards out. Guadron’s shot went past the Tulsa keeper and into the bottom left corner of the net to give Little Rock the late 1-0 advantage.
While the Rangers were trying to prevent a late Tulsa equalizer, Donald Benamna received a through ball on the left side. Benamna then dipsy-dooed around a defender to create space and sent a ball from his right foot towards the right side of the goal. The ball just tipped off the fingertips of the diving Tulsa keeper before finding the right side of the net to secure the 2-0 victory and home-field advantage for the first round of the playoffs for the Rangers.
The final NPSL Heartland regular season standings find the Rangers with a final record of 7-3 for a total of 21 points and second on the table behind FC Wichita.
The club will go into playoff action as the hottest team in the conference, winning the last five conference matches that they’ve played. The Rangers’ first-ever home playoff game will take place on Wednesday, July 11 versus a familiar foe, Tulsa Atletico. Tickets for the matchup can be purchased at littlerockrangers.com/tickets.
The Rangers WPSL side also was in action on Saturday and finished their regular season with a 0-6 loss to Oklahoma City to put their final conference record at 0-8-2.