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What Does the New USL Third Division Mean for Sporting KC?

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The Swope Park Rangers are already in the second division but change could be coming.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Sporting KC Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday the United Soccer League (USL) announced that they would start a new third division league in 2019. This news comes on the heels of the USL being moved out of D3 into the second division on a provisional basis with the NASL.

I for one had assumed that if the NASL couldn’t meet the requirements put forth by US Soccer to remain in the second division they would become the third division league. Currently the NASL isn’t meeting the minimum number of teams (12) and barely has teams in enough time zones leaving the poor SF Deltas isolated on the West Coast.

This move seems to signal the USL would like to occupy both D2 and D3 spots. The USL already poached the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Ottawa Fury from the NASL since the end of the 2016 season and it seems possible more teams could jump ship.

It makes sense that the USL is looking to add another division as well. From 2014 to 2015 they added 10 teams. By 2016 they added another five. This past season the total teams went up by just one (three new teams with two teams leaving — FC Montreal disolving and the Wilmington Hammerheads moving down to the PDL). Only one team is set to join next season (Nashville FC). Maybe all the new teams signing on are agreeing to head to a third division.

How is Sporting KC Impacted?

In a fantastic piece on SI.com Brian Straus brings up the possibility that MLS clubs may drop their teams down to the third division since they are just trying to develop players and they can still accomplish that in the second division.

Another possibility—and this is speculation—is that MLS owners who would rather not spend the money required to maintain reserve teams at a D2 standard might seek to drop those sides to the new D3 league. It’s unknown whether MLS would allow it, but it might make sense for squads that are designed to develop players, not draw crowds. One of the reasons for the USL’s provisional D2 sanctioning is that a couple MLS reserve teams were forced to upgrade their stadiums.

The Swope Park Rangers may fall into that category. Swope Park’s Championship Field currently only seats 3,500 fans. One would assume the capacity will need to be raised to the D2 minimum of 5,000 by next season. However if Sporting Kansas City plan to move SPR down to D3 in 2019 (which is again, purely speculation) then the stadium capacity requirement drops to just 1,000 seats.

I personally would be against such a drop in division as the level of competition would likely drop right along with it and players on the Rangers would be missing out on valuable experience against players who are just outside of being in MLS.

Another Option Exists

Sporting KC could decide to go in another direction when the USL’s new D3 league begins play. Instead of moving SPR down, they could add yet another team to the mix, allowing even more of their SKC Academy players to get more time against a higher level of competition than they would likely face just by playing other academies.

Previously SKC had been linked to adding a fourth division team in the USL PDL. It’s possible that talk could pick back up. Another possibility is some sort of purchase or affiliation with a PDL team or NPSL team that may want to move into this new third division. There are currently several teams in and around Missouri that may be interested including: FC Wichita (Kansas), Demize NPSL (Springfield, MO), Little Rock Rangers (Arkansas), St. Louis Lions (Missouri) and the Des Moines Menace (Iowa). The Menace are of course coached by former SKC assistant John Pascarella.

Currently this is all baseless speculation but it’s interesting to think about. I personally hope that the Swope Park Rangers wouldn’t be moved down a division but I would be open to them moving to an under-served area around Kansas City that may show better support than fans currently do for such an exciting and dynamic team.