By Daniel Cermak/NPSL.com
This week’s MyCujoo NPSL Classic brings NPSL fans and supporters a restream of the 2018
Heartland Conference Semifinal. The match between Little Rock Rangers and Tulsa Athletic
was a heated one that saw the Arkansas side take the victory in the dying moments of the match.
“Going into this game, we won a regular season game against Tulsa the prior week to secure
home field advantage,” Little Rock Rangers Head Coach Will Montgomery said. “So, we were
on an emotional high of having our first home playoff game. Tulsa is an explosive team with
talented players in several positions. I remembered telling the team this will be a defensive
battle and to stay compact and focused. I also instructed the players that we must compete for
90+ minutes. This game was a great moment for the LR Rangers, and could be remembered as
the start of the club’s ongoing success.”
The matchup was one with some serious history within the 2018 season. Tulsa Athletic met up
with Little Rock in the opening weekend, seeing Tulsa dominate Little Rock. In perfect
harmony, the two teams met again in the final match of the season, again with identical records,
though Tulsa held a slight goal differential advantage. Little Rock went on to shutout Tulsa
Athletic in that final game and managed to grab a late winner plus an additional injury time goal
that was much more than insurance, giving the Rangers home field advantage in the playoffs.
Tulsa Athletic Owner Sonny Dalesandro knew that Little Rock would be a difficult place to go
and get a playoff victory.
“Little Rock is probably one of the most difficult places to play in the NPSL,” Dalesandro said.
“Great crowd, narrow field, Will Montgomery has his guys covering every blade of grass,
nothing is easy there.”
Little Rock Rangers captain and defender Nicholas Doyle made sure that nothing did come easy
for Tulsa Athletic as the match was a defensive battle throughout. Doyle was confident in his
backline’s ability, especially given their recent results against Tulsa Athletic.
“This was a game of Tulsa’s attack versus Rangers defense,” Doyle said. “We came into the
game with five clean sheets in a row and Tulsa with the best attack in the league. They had some
great chances to win it, but with some excellent goalkeeping and counter attacks we managed to
sneak one in late to grab the win in front of an incredibly passionate home crowd.”
Little Rock had to withstand a number of Tulsa Athletic attacking runs, especially within the first
half of the game. Jaden Hath knew it was going to be a tough battle, but used the home crowd to
his advantage. When the decisive moment came late in the match, Hath would never forget it.
“I still remember the noise the crowd made when that ball went in,” Hath said. “Everyone on the
field knew the game had to be ours. We defended all game. We knew we could last five more minutes. It was very emotional. It was our first playoff win, first home playoff win. It was a
The good times for Little Rock did not end there however, as the good times kept rolling all the
way to the regional final. Following their dramatic win against Tulsa Athletic the Rangers
repeated their defensive masterclass and recorded their seventh straight clean sheet, winning 0-0
(5-4 on penalties) against FC Wichita in the Heartland Conference final. Little Rock Rangers’
clean sheet streak ended in the South Region Semifinals but no Rangers tears were shed as the
squad advanced to the conference final with a 2-1 victory over Laredo Heat SC. Their run
would come to an end, however, in the South Region Final where eventual champions The
Miami FC bested Little Rock Rangers.
Despite being on the wrong end of the scoreline on the night, Dalesandro had some high praise
for Little Rock Rangers.
“The thing about that 2018 team is they almost forgot how to lose,” Dalesandro said. “I think this
game is a great showcase of that, a team that would bend but just would not break.”
Given that these are two mainstays in the Heartland Conference and that the game was not short
on chances despite the final scoreline, tonight’s MyCujoo NPSL Classic is sure to offer plenty of
entertainment for all NPSL fans and supporters.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Gonzalez