By Benjamin Peacock/Little Rock Rangers
Let’s start with the good news. The Little Rock Rangers are in the Heartland Conference playoffs. More on that in a moment. The bad news is the Stags dropped the last regular season match to Demize NPSL 2-0 on Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium, finishing the season with a 4-5-1 record.
The Rangers looked to come out strong with early shots taken by midfielders Trevor Reed and Jaden Hoth. But it would be Demize who struck first in the 29th minute. Six minutes later, striker Lance Crabtree, freshly minted to both the Football Manager and Top Drawer Soccer Teams of the Week, received a pass from Daishi Uekuri and neatly dropped it into the goal but it was ruled offside.
Little Rock Rangers head coach Will Montgomery offered his thoughts on the tone these missed chances set for the rest of the match.
“It appeared the guys came out a little lethargic,” Montgomery said. “The ball wasn’t being moved as much as we wanted in the first half. In the first ten minutes we had two chances to score a goal and we didn’t capitalize on that. You can tell that affected [the players] psychologically.”
Forward Sebastian Kennedy was called for a foul on a tackle in the box and Demize was awarded a penalty kick in the 42nd minute. Goalkeeper Walid Birrou chose the right spot on the kick but the ball still found its way through to give Demize a 2-0 lead going into the half.
The Rangers were aggressive on shots taken after the halftime break but the Demize goalkeeper was up to the task, including saving both a successive shot and rebound attempt by Donald Benamna and Crabtree in the 59th.
Despite the Rangers’ efforts, which notably also included a brilliant fingertip save by Birrou at 66 minutes and a totally Benamna take away by Benamna at 75 minutes for the best chance taken to score by the Rangers for the night, the boys in white were unable to get on the board.
Substitutes made in the second half included Alex Guadron for Kennedy (53′), Ulises Caba Cordova for Crabtree (70′), Sabelo for Reed (75′), and Blaine Hickman for Hayden Tucker (76′).
Fortunately, the Rangers were guaranteed a playoff spot, but this match dictated whether the Rangers would play at home on Wednesday or hit the road. As fans left and the lights switched off, the Rangers still held a chance for the home berth. Ozark FC and FC Wichita were in the middle of a tied weather-delayed match. Should Ozark win or draw, Wichita would drop and the Rangers would finish in second. Ozark went on to win 3-1, giving the Rangers just what they needed.
Reed, no stranger to the task ahead of the Rangers in his fourth season, knows the team will have to regroup quickly.
“We know playoffs are super quick with two games in four days,” Reed said. “Anything can happen as we saw last year when we won the first one and then went on the road and won the second. So we know what it takes to get it done and it is just about us coming out and doing it.”
Demize will turn right around and come back to War Memorial on Wednesday in what will surely be a grudge match for the Heartland semifinal.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Gonzalez.