Things looked so promising at the start of the 2016 United Soccer League season when the Swope Park Rangers shot out of the gate with two earlier victories. In the next 11 games they only managed to win twice. Much like their big brothers at Sporting Kansas City, things have been very rough as of late.
Swope currently sit at 12th in the Western Conference standings (of a total of 15 teams) and have 14 points. Shockingly they are just four points out of the 8th and final playoff spot which is currently held by the Orange County Blues. They are currently only 13 games into a 30 game season. There is plenty of time to figure it out and turn things around, but it has to start soon. Here are two changes that need to be made to turn things around.
Start Jon Kempin
Jon Kempin is the only remaining Sporting KC player still on loan with the Swope Park Rangers. Daniel Salloi was recently loaned out to Vasas SC in Hungary and Jimmy Medranda and Jordi Quintilla have been recalled to SKC. Despite that, Kempin has spent the last 7 games riding the bench instead of being on the field. He has been replaced by backup Zac Lubin and for one game by Alec Kann (who was getting minutes before his US Open Cup start last week). Statistically speaking, Kempin should still be the starter.
As the stats from USLSoccer.com show above, Kempin leads Lubin in every category except saves. He has allowed fewer goals (both total and on average) and has a higher save percentage (65.4% to 58.8%). On top of that, Kempin has a better record than Lubin (though not by much). Kempin is 2-3-1 while Lubin is 1-4-1. Alec Kann is a perfect 1-0-0 but as you can see didn't have to make any saves in his only start.
There has been no indication that Kempin is injured and he undoubtedly had a bad run leading up to him heading to the bench (three straight losses). The whole point of the Swope Park Rangers is to develop future Sporting KC players. It's possible Sporting don't see him as their future keeper despite having just re-signed him in the offseason. After all, they did want to use their first round pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft on Andrew Tarbell.
The thing is, we'll never know if he's capable by letting him rot on the bench. He needs to get out there and sink or swim. When he was forced on in the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs I thought he was fantastic. He had several great saves against the Portland Timbers and who could have guessed he'd be force to take a penalty kick to decide things.
On top of that, Kempin is four years younger than Lubin. If the Rangers aren't trying to win the USL Championship, they should at least be developing players. While Lubin will only turn 27 this season, it's not like he is the keeper of the future. Once players get on the wrong side of 30 they typically decline and Lubin is a lot closer than Kempin (even though keepers tend to play for a lot longer than your typical field player). The point is, START JON KEMPIN!
Christian Duke Needs to be Benched
I know I'm not going to make any friends trying to send a Kansas City native to the bench, but that's not the point. Duke simply has not been good enough to stay on the field over more dynamic players. That is evident by the fact that he doesn't have a home. He started the season as a left back and then recently has played a little midfielder and forward.
Some would say that's Duke being a team player and showing how diverse he is. I argue it's because they are trying to keep him on the field despite the fact that he isn't playing up to par. There really isn't a true left back on the pitch for SPR. Tyler Pasher (a forward) played there a bit and looked very good. It's much like the Graham Zusi/Jimmy Medranda fullback experiment that is going on for Sporting KC. Fullbacks in a 4-3-3 system need to be able to get into the attack. What better way then by putting a winger back in that role.
Duke played just a single game in the midfield and that makes sense. There is a ton of midfield talent on this team and putting Duke in the midfield over Tomas Granitto, Nansel Selbol or Ayrton is silly. Ualefi and Kevin Oliveira are penciled in as starters and they've earned it. No reason to give the third spot to Duke.
As for letting him play on the wing, he hasn't shown that skill either. I'd much rather see the above mentioned Pasher, Kris Tyrpak, Selbol, Mark Anthony Gonzalez or Ayrton out there as well.
The final piece that would make this 100% a no-brainer would be for Sporting KC to loan Amadou Dia to the Rangers. Dia has found himself out of favor with a combination of mistakes and Jimmy Medranda being so fantastic. Clearly Seth Sinovic should be the backup and Dia should go out on loan to keep getting minutes. It's only his second season as a pro and he would be a huge upgrade over Duke.
If none of the above were to pan out, rumors just broke that Sporting KC are looking to sign Honduran left back, Ever Alvarado. While that makes zero sense for SKC it makes a ton of sense for the Swope Park Rangers. Especially if they bench Duke.
To cap it all off, Duke could then be used as a late sub. The USL allows five substitutes a game and he has a fantastic work ethic. If he comes on later, he already probably has the best cardio on the pitch, but then he'll be playing against guys that are tired. He can use that work rate to create turnovers and distribute the ball to his more attacking based teammates.