It's almost time for preseason!
The USL had a busy Friday morning this past weekend as they released home openers and the conference alignment, including player news from the Swope Park Rangers heading into the 2018 campaign.
The Rangers will open their 2018 campaign on the road in Reno against - former players - Dane Kelly, Mark Anthony Gonzalez and Reno 1868 FC on March 17th. Following their away game, the Rangers will return home to face the Seattle Sounders 2 for their home opener on March 24.
This offseason has been a busy one for the Rangers and the senior team, as both teams have experienced multiple trades. Leaving 2017 with only six players remaining on the roster, the Rangers have been quick to add to the roster this offseason after the new year, adding three new players that have prior USL and MLS experience.
The Rangers signed former Orlando City SC striker Hadji Barry, the club announced Monday morning. Barry will make the Rangers fourth signing and joins the club having both MLS and USL experience, after splitting time with Orlando City and their USL affiliate, Orlando City B for the past two seasons.
Although a preseason schedule has yet to be announced, I predict we will see potential trainees - likely from the academy teams - train with SPR in the upcoming weeks. Including, appearances by Kharlton Belmar, Amer Didic, James Musa, Daniel Salloi, Colton Storm and Adrian Zendejas whom were all loaned to SPR last season.
Goalkeeper: Darrin MacLeod
Forwards: Nansel Selbol (offered contract but still unsigned), Hadji Barry (new)
Midfielders: Felipe Hernandez, Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal, Will Little, Rodrigo Saravia (new), Bryam Rebellon (new)
Defenders: Dakota Barnathan, Parker Maher, Matheus Silva (new)
New Teams. New Competition.
New season. New teams. The USL will contain 33 teams across two conferences as the regular season expands to 34 games for the upcoming season. The Western Conference will feature 17 teams in the new season, while the Eastern Conference will consist of 16 clubs.
SPR will remain in the Western Conference for the third year in the club's existence. Saint Louis FC is the only team that will switch conferences and head back to the west for the new season. Even though, both clubs will compete in the same conference, I believe we will still have the same rivalry that developed early on.
Of the league’s expansion teams, Fresno FC and Las Vegas Lights FC will join the Western Conference, while ATL UTD 2, Indy Eleven, Nashville SC and North Carolina FC are placed in the Eastern Conference.
Orlando City B and Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 opted out to participate in the 2018 season.
With a rapidly growing roster and schedule, one question still remains: Where are the Rangers going to play? At this time, no stadium has been announced yet.
Following last season's stadium debacle, the Rangers have been quiet on where the team will play this year. The Rangers have played preseason and home games at Children's Mercy Victory Field for the last two seasons. However, this season they will need to expand to fill the 5,000 capacity requirement or move.
According to sources, the Rangers are in the market for a new stadium.
What can we expect?
The Rangers have performed well in their first two seasons, ending their 2017 campaign with a 17-7-8 record to become the first team in USL history to win back-to-back Western Conference Final championships. They also were the first expansion team to reach a league final in the club’s first two seasons.
We can expect to see changes in leadership along with roster changes. Marc Dos Santos - who is now an assistant coach with LAFC - and Nikola Popovic led the Rangers to the USL Final. Now with former SKC player, Paulo Nagamura at the helm, I'm sure he'll deliver similar results like his predecessors. Nagamura is said to be looking at players from the youth academy this season, possibly giving some new faces on the pitch more playing time.
Who will be the new captain? Christian Duke - who served in the captain position for the past two seasons - recently signed with Orange County SC leaving the spot open. It's possible Zendejas could fill that role.
While Andrew Dykstra continues to serve as Tim Melia's back up, Zendejas will likely return to the Rangers. Zendejas has recorded 10 clean sheets, 55 saves and 1 PK scored in the past two seasons thus far and I don't see him slowing down anytime soon.
MacLeod is a good option to play having had quite a start last season - he recorded five starts, 480 minutes played and seven goals conceded and making a dramatic PK save to send the Rangers to the Western Conference semifinals - when Zendejas spends time with the senior team.