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Monarchs winging into Swope Park in start of Missouri road trip.

The 2017 regular season champions Monarch face the 2017 post season Western Conference champion Rangers for the second time this year.

MLS: 2018 Portraits USA TODAY Sports

For the third time this season the Monarchs will close out a season series. The 2018 season series with Timbers 2 was an even split with 3 point a piece. The Monarchs took 4 points from the Las Vegas Lights with a tie at home and then a victory on the road. Perhaps the third time is the charm and the Monarchs will take a full six points from the Swope Park Rangers at Children‘s Mercy Park tonight at 6:30 PM.

The Rangers are undefeated in the four home matches in 2018 with a 3-0-1 mark, but their schedule has been loaded with road games so their overall record is 6-3-4. One of those road losses was to the Real Monarchs back on May 9th when they fell 4-1 at Zions Bank Stadium.

In that match the Monarchs fell behind early as Karlton Belmar, yes the same one who RSL struggled with in the US Open Cup match, found the back of the net on a break away in the 8th minute, only to see Monarchs tie it up on a curving long range shot/cross by Sebastian Velasquez that deflected off Kalen Ryden’s head and then take the lead on a nice header by Ryden off a Justin Portillo corner kick. Juan Mare added a third off a deflection in front of goal on a low cross by Josh Heard, And finally the cherry on top of the cupcake was an own goal by long time Seattle Sounder Brad Evans.

For a team that has spent so much time on the road the Rangers have a respectable goal differential of +1 and are comfortably within the playoff picture in sixth place with 22 points in their 13 matches.

Karlton Belmar has 8 of the Swope Park’s 18 goals and Hadji Barry is close behind with 5. However Belmar has only appeared in 8 of the Ranger’s matches while Barry is the sole member of the squad to start in all 13 matches. Chase Minter, a Monarch during the 2017 season, has lately emerged as a leader for the Rangers, being named to the USL Team of the Week last week when he played the opposite wing from Barry and assisted Hadji in the sole goal at Weidner Field against the Switchbacks.

Head Coach Pablo Nagamura regularly rotates his goalkeeping duties between Adrián Zendejas, Darrin MacLeod and Eric Dick. Although he looked strong in the US open Cup Match last week Zendejas has had trouble behind a young Rangers defense and has only about a 56% saves success rate. Amer Didic and Graham Smith serve as the anchors in the defesive line with frequent support from Brad Evans as he seeks to build fitness and break into a starting role with Sporting KC.

The Monarchs continue to feature a strong spine based upon Justin Portillo, Sebastian Velasquez, and Chandler Hoffman. However, with RSL beginning the long break for World Cup expect to see a strong contingent of players down for fitness and recovery and a continuation of frequent appearances by Academy players. One of whom, Ritchard Ledezma, was honored with be named to the USL Team of the Week for his first professional goal and an assist in the last matches against Rio Grande Valley.

Another reason for expecting some squad rotation tonight is the match Saturday again St. Louis as the Monarchs complete their swing through Missouri. Acting Head Coach Jamison Olave will likely continue to utilize his bench depth and offer plenty of time for recovery. Andrew Putna and David Diosa, the only Monarch who has not seen the field this season, continue on the injury list.

Here are three things to watch this evening.

  1. Kharlton Belmar. How well the Monarchs are able to contain his speed and freedom will go a long way toward determining the outcome of this match
  2. Set pieces. The Monarchs have been deadly on set piece plays and need for that to continue on this road trip. Can Justin Portillo and Charlie Adams continue to make corners pay off in goals? Maikel Change has also been quite for quite some time...
  3. Keep the ball on the ground. The Monarchs need to play for possession and manage time wisely. The Rangers live to play a fast up-tempo over-the-top game that is wide open. Can the Monarch keep possession fairly equal and build up significant chances over time to keep the tempo in their wheelhouse.

Find out how it goes tonight on ESPN+ and see two good teams battle it out as a warm up for the World Cup and a much more mixed bag tomorrow!