While Sporting Kansas City has been in preseason in Tucson the last couple weeks, the Swope Park Rangers did not officially open their preseason until this week. It made sense from the standpoint that all of the returning players were in Tucson with the first team. Most of them even saw time in Sporting KC’s preseason friendlies.
The returning players from the team that went to the USL final are: Oumar Ballo, Amer Didic, Christian Duke, Mark Anthony Gonzalez, Felipe Hernandez, Will Little, Kevin Oliveira and Nansel Selbol.
The first couple practice sessions did not include the players that went to Tucson but did include their new players and several trialists. The players that went to Tucson have rejoined the team and should all be practicing together soon.
New Swope Park Rangers head coach, Nikola Popovic, thought the preseason was off to a good start.
“They looked very good,” Popovic observed. “We have a lot of players from the Academy and we have a lot of players from other clubs in on trial but it was a good day. We are already starting to implement some ideas but right now we want to see if they fit into the system, if they have the right profile to stay in this club.”
While all coaches will want their players in camp, Popovic saw a lot of benefit in the veteran players going to Tucson with Sporting KC. “We are going to be very much connected to the first team, all of the model is attached to the first team. They are already over there with the first team and are receiving the model and these boys are receiving it to so when they come together they will be ready and we will go from there.”
With a few trialists in camp, ranging from undrafted college players to a player that was at Benifica’s youth team, Popovic wants to see what they can do but is in no rush.
“We have a few open spots but it is very, very soon because we have to wait to see what happens with the first team also,” Popovic explained. “For now we have these players, let’s see how they develop in the first and second week and from there we can go into more detail.”
One of the more well-known names the Rangers signed in the off season was Kharlton Belmar. He was originally drafted by the Portland Timbers in 2015 but was eventually signed by their USL squad, the Timbers 2.
When asked why he came to Swope Park, Belmar explained, “Things didn’t really work out in Portland so it was good to get a new environment and another chance at trying to play more soccer.”
In the first couple of practices Belmar was moving really well and showed a hunger for goal. “I really enjoyed it, it was good to get back out here,” Belmar stated.” It’s been awhile since I did anything constructive playing wise so it was good to get back out here. It’s a new group of guys and one that has a lot of energy.”
- Kevin Oliveira went to Tucson with Sporting KC but returned early to continue rehab. He is still recovering from knee surgery last year but is running and looks close to being able to practice.
- Sporting Kansas City went 0-2 in the first phase of preseason, losing 1-0 versus San Jose and 2-1 versus New England. While SKC created a lot of chances, the lone goals was scored by Swope Park Rangers’ Nansel Selbol with and assist from Swope Park captain Christian Duke.
- Several Sporting Academy players were practicing with the team. Last year a number of them received Academy contracts with Swope Park, allowing them to play but still be considered an amateur. Two of those players from last season signed their first pro contracts with Swope Park this season: Will Little and Felipe Hernandez. Both of them were called up to the U.S. U-19 camp but should be returning soon.