Year Founded: 2015 (though their debut season was 2016)
Affiliation: Sporting Kansas City
2016 record, place in Conference standings: 14-10-6, 48 points, 4th Place
2016 playoffs: Lost USL Cup Final
SPR Crash Course
It may be hard to believe, but this is only the second season for the Swope Park Rangers. Year one was an amazing success. The team played home games throughout the playoffs (with a little help) and made it all the way to the USL Cup Final before falling to New York Red Bulls II, who broke nearly ever USL record on their way to the title. That game marked the first time two MLS b-teams played for the USL Cup.
On the way to that game the Rangers won probably the single most exciting game I’ve ever watched. Down two men (yes two!) they made an amazing comeback against the Orange County Blues. Seriously, go watch the highlights right now.
There are changes in KC though. First year head coach Marc Dos Santos is out (he’s leading a NASL expansion side, the San Francisco Deltas) and he’s replaced by one of his assistants from last year, Nikola Popovic.
Felipe Hernandez: While he was technically signed in 2016 from the SKC Academy, he never made an appearance. By all accounts this kid can play. He got his first assist during the preseason and will likely be the starter at the attacking midfielder role until Kevin Oliveira returns from injury.
Robert Mirosavic: Mirosavic is another former Benfica player (along with Oliveira) who played under Popovic while overseas. He was a prolific goal scorer at the youth level and is still just 22-years-old. He’ll be important to fill the gaps on the wings left by some of the departures below.
Leroy Enzugusi: While still only 17-years-old, Enzugusi is already making a name for himself in the Sporting KC system. He has only been with the U-18’s for 12 games and has nine goals. In just 81 minutes of playing time in the preseason he has another two goals. If he can find his way into the lineup he’ll surely find the back of the net.
Where do we begin? Two departures that won’t hurt the club are Tyler Pasher and Adrian Zendejas since they are likely to be loaned back down to SPR from SKC. Since those two don’t really count, let’s talk about some that do.
Ayrton: While Ayrton only played for SPR for the second half of 2016, he made quite an impact. He bagged three goals and seven assists in the regular season and generally made the midfield run once Kevin Oliveira went down with a torn ACL. According to team sources he returned home and has had several offers in Brazil.
Ualefi: If Ayrton made the midfield run, Ualefi was the shield in front of the back line. In a 4-3-3, the defensive midfielder may be the most important player. Ualefi got injured during the USL Cup Playoffs and apparently is still around Kansas City rehabbing but reportedly won’t be back with the team. Initially this surprised me as it seemed he had SKC potential but Peter Vermes had Ilie Sanchez up his sleeve which apparently made Ualefi expendable.
Kris Tyrpak: Tyrpak had a fantastic year for SPR make 28 appearances, bagging seven goals and adding an assist. He had Pasher flew up and down the wings but he has decided to return home and has signed with San Antonio FC.
Projected Starting XI and Formation
SPR will still play a 4-3-3 like their parent club (and every club in the Sporting KC system). There are question marks all over the field. The only sure things are Oumar Ballo and Amer Didic at center back and Mark Anthony Gonzalez at center forward. Didic and MAG are with the Canada U-23’s though, so they’ll miss opening day.
Since Sporting KC haven’t announced any loans but one has to imagine they will. Likely candidates from the senior team would be the aforementioned Zendejas (goalkeeper), Pasher (left back or left winger) and possible new signing Cameron Iwasa (winger or center forward), who scored 12 goals for fellow USL club Sacramento Republic last season. If they get loaned down they could all start on day one.
Since no loans have been announced, we’ll forgo them in our Starting XI for the opening day.
Parker Maher, Liam Doyle, Ballo, Colton Storm
James Musa, Christian Duke, Felipe Hernandez
Robert Mirosavic, Kharlton Belmar, Nasel Selbol
Once the loans happens, the Canadian’s return and the team gets healthy it could look at lot different. Besides the three SKC players who could push into the starting lineup Kevin Oliveira, who was second on the USL’s 2016 list of the best players under 20 in the league, will assume his role as the starting attacking midfielder and will become a player very likely to get called up to the senior team.
[Update: Right as this was published the Colton Storm loan was made official (he’d been practicing with the team almost exclusively). Along with that Kevin Ellis, Daniel Salloi, Latif Blessing and Adrian Zendejas were all loaned to SPR from SKC. I’d expect them all to start, but Blessing, Ellis and Salloi will likely be back with SKC for next weeks games as Vermes is likely just getting them minutes. I expect Zendejas and Storm to remain with SPR barring injuries to the senior team.]
Why you should watch the Swope Park Rangers in 2017
Peter Vermes has said it time and time again, Sporting KC aren’t signing multi-million dollar Designated Players. The future of SKC lies with the Swope Park Rangers. Vermes envisions a day where the entire Starting XI for Sporting comes from within (either SPR for the SKC Academy). The Academy kids are coming through SPR now. These guys will be on SKC in the future so you should get to know them now.
3 Players to Watch:
Amer Didic: It’ll depend how long he stays with the Rangers. You’ll be watching him whether it’s with SPR or SKC in 2017.
Leroy Enzugusi: I don’t want to over hype the kid but he scores goals. He’s still very thin (just 155 pounds) but as he grows, he looks like a potential SKC Homegrown player.
Nansel Selbol: He may not always start (though he’d make a great super-sub) but he looks like a star in the making. He only had one goal in 2016 but already scored three times in the preseason.
The 2017 season will be a success if...
The youth of the club succeeds. Much like in 2016 this team will take time to figure things out. Lots of jobs have yet to be won and the team is very young. They will be competing against independent USL teams that have huge veteran presence that SPR cannot compete with. Youth and speed will have to prevail.