Recently the USL applied to USSF for Division 2 status. The application was approved and USL has been sanctioned as a second division league in the U.S. Soccer structure. MLS as the first division, USL as the second division and USL plans to start a Division 3 league as well for 2019.
This led to a lot of speculation that some of the MLS owned teams in the USL may drop down to the third division when it starts. There have also been a number of rumors flying around that Sporting Kansas City’s ‘B’ team, the Swope Park Rangers would drop to D3 or possibly even move to another city where they might draw more fans as stand-alone team.
While attendance at the Swope Park Rangers games has been on the low side, the D2 standards require teams to have stadiums with a minimum seating capacity of 5,000. Children’s Mercy Victory Field at Swope Soccer Village seats approximately 3,500. The number has varied slightly with different bleachers in use and with FC Kansas City’s configuration while using the stadium for their games as well.
“They are for sure going to stay (USL 2),” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes told The Blue Testament. “We are looking at all options, whether that is increasing the size or looking for something else in or around the area. Every option is available to us, we have time to figure that out and we will.”
Vermes also quickly ruled out moving the Rangers to another city. “From a training perspective every day, absolutely not. That’s not to say we couldn’t play some games somewhere else here and there. You could do that but from a training everyday perspective, no chance. Absolutely not.”
Staying at D2 level is important to Vermes, he wants the Rangers to face the best competition they can.
This model is key for SKC
Sporting KC, Swope Park Rangers and Sporting KC Academy currently all train at Swope Park Soccer Village and Vermes makes great use of all of those teams. On any given day, there will be Academy players with Swope Park or even the first team and Swope Park players with the first team. Vermes has sent players to the Rangers as well to stay fresh in games, get experience or some game action while rehabbing from an injury.
Sporting Kansas City experimented with having an affiliate in USL twice before starting their own team. The first time was with Orlando City and then with Jimmy Nielson’s Oklahoma City Energy. In both cases, Sporting KC used them sporadically, sending a player or two on long term loan but mostly keeping players with the first team.
In 3 years w/ OC/OKC #SportingKC did 11 loans, 123 games, 8,193 minutes played. Just last year w/ SPR 16 loans, 56 games, 4,256 minutes.— Mike (@downthebyline) October 17, 2017
One of the issues with an affiliate agreement is that those teams main focus is on winning, not developing Sporting Kansas City’s players. Another is the style, it is well known that SKC plays a 4-3-3 and there are few surprises when an opponent faces a Vermes led squad.
“The whole entire philosophy behind all of our properties, meaning the senior team, the B team and the academy is that all of those players are playing in the same model of play every day,” Vermes explained. “When we are in an Open Cup final and throwing Kevin Oliveira in the last twenty minutes or so to close out the game when he hasn’t played a game for us (the senior team), there is a reason we can do that. He’s played in so many games in the same exact formation, the same exact model of play. That is what helps.”
Vermes has used the Rangers as a proving ground for Academy kids graduating to the pro ranks. Winger Nansel Selbol signed a pro contract with Swope Park last year and has had a bit of a breakout season this year with 9 goals and 2 assists. Midfielders Felipe Hernandez and Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal signed with Swope Park this year right out of Academy play with 35 appearances between them.
Vermes has also used the Rangers to bring in players that he might want for the first team, watch them play and have them in training to see how they stack up with the first team. So far Sporting KC has signed six players that they may not have been able to in the past. Tyler Pasher and Adrian Zendejas signed after last season while Amer Didic, James Musa, Kevin Oliveira and Kharlton Belmar signed this season. All six have been on game day rosters already with Musa getting a start and Oliveira and Belmar subbing in late in games.
A wrinkle for next season
“As a staff we can all spend time talking to each other about little intricacies of the formation, what players should do in certain situations. The Academy coaches can talk to the Swope Park Rangers’ coaches and all the way through (to the first team). That is why it works so well and has been so good. That is also why next year we are going to have to be innovative when we go over to the National Training Center,” Vermes acknowledged. “It’s not like we will be five hours away but we won’t be around each other all day long.”
“They could train over there once in a while, all of them could. It will probably be more me and a few of the other staff members come over here a couple times a week to makes sure that we are connected as well,” Vermes added.
Perhaps they need to develop an app to let each player know where he is supposed to be in training that day.
“We already have one,” Vermes laughed.