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2018 USL Season Review: Swope Park Rangers

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Sporting KC’s second division squad put in another solid performance despite existing as a “development” team.

Thad Bell

It should be mentioned, the stated goal of the Swope Park Rangers is to develop talent from Sporting Kansas City and to bridge the gap between the SKC Academy to the first team. The goal is not to win games. That said, in their three years of existence, SPR have won quite a lot of games.

The 2018 season, while not as successful as the 2016 and 2017 seasons, was still pretty good overall. It’s hard to replicate the success of the first two seasons, both of which ended with runs all the way to the USL Cup Playoff Finals. This season also ended in the playoffs, just two round earlier, in the Western Conference Semifinals against #3 seeded Phoenix Rising FC. And they didn’t go out with a whimper, but instead fought hard until the very end, pushing a team that likely has one of the biggest payrolls in all of the United Soccer League to their very limits. Not bad for a “b team.”

Season Review

Record: 15-11-8 (53 points)

Standings: 7th Place in the West, 11th in the single USL table (33 total teams)

Goals For: 52

Goals Against: 53

Best Streak: Four straight wins (August 25th through September 9th)

Worst Streak: Eight straight winless (0-5-3 — July 10th through August 19th)

Statistical Leaders

GOALS

1. Hadji Barry (19)

2. Kharlton Belmar (10)

3. Tyler Blackwood (8)

4. Kuzain (4)

5. Wilson Harris / Felipe Hernandez (3)

ASSISTS

1. Kharlton Belmar (6)

2. Colton Storm / Hadji Barry (5)

4. Felipe Hernandez (4)

5. Tyler Blackwood (3)

MINUTES

1. Hadji Barry (2,946)

2. Tyler Blackwood (2,755)

3. Felipe Hernandez (2,554)

4. Graham Smith (2,372)

5. Amer Didic (2,358)

Barry looks to blast it while Blackwood appears to be calling for the ball at the top of the box.
Thad Bell

Most Valuable Player

Hadji Barry

19 goals and five assists make it pretty hard to call anyone else on the team the MVP other than Barry. He started the season a bit rough, lacking any sort of touch but consistently finding the field due to his game breaking speed and, frankly, the lack of forward depth for Swope. As the season wore on, he really found his stride and set the USL record for goals in consecutive games with eight. He ended the 2018 season with the SPR record for goals in a season (19) as well. It will be interesting to see if he’s back in 2019 or if he’s moved up to a first team contract. He will be 26 in December so he’s definitely on the edge.

Defensive Player of the Year

Graham Smith

While the goalkeepers were on a constant rotation, Graham Smith, Amer Didic, and Colton Storm were the only mainstays on this defense all year. I’ll give Smith the edge because he had a bit of a breakout season after a shaky start of his own. He also got minutes with the first team, something his backline partner Didic has yet to do in league play. Didic probably took a half step back this year. Didic has options for the next two years and Smith for the next three. I’m confident Smith will be back, not so much for the rest of his backline partners.

Sporting KC Players on Loan

Total Number: 15

List (in order of minutes played): Graham Smith, Amer Didic, Colton Storm, Kharlton Belmar, Wan Kuzain, Eric Dick, Adrian Zendejas, Gianluca Busio, Jaylin Lindsey, Brad Evans, Diego Rubio, Cristian Lobato, Emiliano Amor, Khiry Shelton, Seth Sinovic

Coming into the season it seemed very likely Busio and Lindsey would spend a majority of their year with SPR, instead they stayed with SKC due to a combination of injuries and also being the best options on the bench. The same is true of Dick and Zendejas, though both SPR keepers (MacLeod and Herrera) got their chances to start. Zendejas even got some minutes in the US Open Cup for Sporting.

Kuzain is the only player on this list that started his season with Swope but ended it on the SKC roster. That’s a change from 2017 that saw James Musa, Kevin Oliveira, Amer Didic, and Kharlton Belmar all promoted. Half of them didn’t have their options picked up after the season but Kuzain is in no danger of that happening. As the offseason progresses, we’ll take a look at who is likely to be around in 2019, who maybe deserves a first team contract and who is likely to just be gone.

SKC Academy products were a big part of the success this year
Thad Bell