The offseason for the Swope Park Rangers tends to be a bit quieter than for their big brothers at Sporting Kansas City. Their biggest news so far is that they picked up options for two players, re-signed another and declined options on 11 more.
That was, until Monday. Nipun Chopra is reporting that the Swope Park Rangers and their cross-state rivals, St. Louis FC, will move from the USL Championship Western Conference to the Eastern Conference.
This is big for two reasons. First, that means SPR will play a whole new set of teams in 2019 after spending their first three seasons in the West. Second, it would seem to confirm SPR are set to remain in the USL Championship instead of heading down to USL League One like so many teams owned by Major League Soccer clubs (also, the League One schedule came out and SPR weren’t on it).
The USL, in addition to their brand change, will continue their breakneck expansion rate. They are adding in seven more teams in 2019, including: Austin Bold FC, Birmingham Legion FC, El Paso Locomotive FC, Hartford Athletic, Loudon United FC (D.C. United), Memphis 901 FC and New Mexico United. It’s always possible more teams could sneak in too.
In addition, they’ve announced at least four teams will leave the league. FC Cincinnati is going to MLS and Penn FC, Richmond Kickers and Toronto FC II will all move to USL League One.
This could be the final moves to align things for 2019. With four teams leaving the East and four coming in, something had to give. The West are adding three more teams which would take it to 20 in the West, 16 in the East. Kansas City and St. Louis moving balances it out.
Chopra also reported that the rumored move to three conferences will not happen until at least 2020.
[Update 3:42 PM CT] Right after this story published, Sporting KC confirmed that nothing official will likely come out from the league on conference alignment until January (Jan. 20 in 2016, Jan. 9 in 2017, Jan. 12 in 2018). But bigger news is that “The Rangers will continue to play home matches at Children’s Mercy Park in 2019.”
We’ll bring you more on the Swope Park Rangers throughout the offseason.