This is a terrible way to start a preview because previews are supposed to engage your interest in the topic that is being previewed. That’s gonna be hard for me, and probably hard for you, because we’re all still varying shades of bummed that Louisville City lost in the Conference Finals on Sunday. As such, your/my interest in watching the team that beat us play in a game we so badly wanted to play in is probably not that high.
But. BUT! We’ve all invested a lot in this team, this season, and in this league in 2016. It’d be a shame if we didn’t dedicate at least SOME of our attention to the USL’s crown jewel, the USL Cup Final. It’s got the best team from the Eastern Conference and a team that didn’t crap the bed from the Western Conference! The winner gets a vase/trophy that Nicholas Murray probably snagged from a fancy hotel in Miami while trying to convince Fort Lauderdale Strikers to defect from the NASL! He almost definitely had it embossed at an ACE Hardware store! PLAYOFFS!
So let’s get into it.
New York Red Bulls II
I don’t want to dedicate a ton of ink or pixels to these guys because we’ve done enough of that already this season (see previews here, here, here, here, and here if you’re super bored). The Red Bulls II were the best team in the league all season. They’re tall, physical, fast, and are very, very good technically. They broke the league record for goals scored in a season weeks before the season was even over. They’ve got at least four of the best players in the league (Meara, Etienne, Jr., Allen, Bezecourt, not to mention the injured Junior Flemmings), the USL’s First and Second XI lists be damned. If John Wolyniec doesn’t win coach of the year it’s because USL president Jake Edwards got a killer deal on a Toyota Highlander from John Harkes. These guys are good, and I’d put significant amounts of money on them to win this match.
Swope Park Rangers
Being honest, I’ve never watched them play. I know Dane Kelly plays there, and he’s the league’s all-time leading goal scorer. I know Kelly struggled to hit the starting XI for these guys in stretches this season, so their players are good. Swope’s parent club, Sporting Kansas City, historically does a very good job identifying and developing talent. That this team made the USL Cup finals in their first year of existence is a testament to that.
Rangers finished fourth in the West over the regular season on 48 points with 14 wins, 10 losses, and six draws. They scored 45 goals and conceded 36. In the post-season, they’ve been quite a bit better, scoring eight and only giving up one. Kris Tyrpak has really come alive in the playoffs with three goals and an assist, while leading goal scorer Mark Anthony Gonzales is sporting the same scoring line. The current Swope Park keeper, Anthony Zendejas, is en fuego, with a .41 goals against average. That’s nuts.
New York should win this game. Swope Park has had a much easier road to get to this final, and played a much easier schedule over the regular season than New York per RPI. That’s not Rangers’s fault, they can only play the team in front of them, but their middling regular season results leave a lot of doubt that they can win on Sunday. That doesn’t mean this won’t be an exciting game – I think it will be. I’m going 3-1 NYRB II in regular time, but if Rangers come out swinging, it’ll be a fun match to watch.