Now into their fourth season, the Swope Park Rangers have played 16 matches, recording two wins, six draws, and eight losses, which tallies up to 12 points as SPR approach the midway point of the season. They currently sit in 16th place, in front of only expansion clubs Hartford Athletic and Memphis 901 in the standings for the USL Championship Eastern Conference.
With just two wins from 16 matches, the results haven’t been great, but SPR have had a handful of players make great strides toward seeing minutes with Sporting KC, which is the ultimate goal of the Swope Park Rangers.
*** Chad Smith (CS) and Thad Bell (TB) are taking the opportunity to piggyback on Nathan’s article to add our own votes/thoughts. Unless it says (CS) or (TB) it’s all Nathan.
Offensive Player of the Mid-Year
Nathan Dunn (ND) - This one is pretty obvious, Felipe Hernandez takes home the prize. A team-leading seven goals out of the midfield from 15 matches played.
Thad Bell (TB) - I have to agree with Nathan, Felipe leads in goals and has been the most consistent offensive threat.
Chad Smith (CS) - I’ll make it a clean sweep for Felipe. In past seasons he’s been a contributor but he has a career high in goals and he still plays the box-to-box role that Roger Espinoza has made famous for the senior team.
Winner: Felipe Hernandez
Defensive Player of the Mid-Year
ND - This one isn’t so easy, but I will give it to Alexsander. You have three guys that have logged some heavy minutes in the defense: Camden Riley, Alexsander Andrade, and Mark Segbers. Overall, Riley has played well since being drafted with the 45th overall pick of the 2019 MLS Superdraft by Sporting Kansas City, but has made too many glaring errors to deserve this award. Both Mark Segbers and Alexsander have logged tons of minutes as the two wingbacks, but Alexsander has contributed more with the ball, and that is why I give the award to Alexsander.
TB - I can’t argue with Nathan’s pick but it is a tough choice for me between Graham Smith, Alexsander and Segbers. I will go with Smith in this case.
CS - I’ll go another direction. After having a rough start to the season, Mark Segbers has shown great improvement and he’s also the best defender on the team. Alex has done well, but he contributes much more on offense than on defense (though Segbers offense isn’t bad as he’s seen one appearance at the wing spot recently).
Most Impactful Loan
ND - As the so-called “minor league” affiliate of Sporting KC, there have been quite a few players loaned to SPR in 2019, which includes: Adrian Zendejas, Eric Dick, Graham Smith, Abdul Rwatuyaye (currently under contract with Colorado Rapids), Gianluca Busio, Wan Kuzain, Gedion Zelalem, Kelyn Rowe, and Tyler Freeman.
From those nine players, it comes down to three real candidates for this award: Gianluca Busio, Graham Smith, and Adrian Zendejas. All three of those players have been very influential when they play with SPR.
For me, Adrian Zendejas has been the best of the SKC players with so many big saves for the Rangers in his six starts, leading to SPR’s only clean sheet this season.
TB - In this case I have to disagree. I am not sure any loan has made a huge singularly huge impact but Graham Smith has been a rock for SPR. He often wears the armband and has played several games after getting off the plane from setting on SKC’s bench the night before.
CS - I’m going to second Thad and say Graham Smith. The goalkeepers have all been too inconsistent for me and all the injuries have limited the loans to SPR in general. Smith has been pretty good in defense, and pretty good is about all the best this team has shown all year.
Winner: Graham Smith
Newcomer of the Year
ND - Alexsander is the newcomer of the year. He’s been very productive at left back this season, providing SPR with a goal and five assists from 15 games this season.
Once again, John Pulskamp could have potentially won this award, but he simply hasn’t gotten enough games consistently.
TB - Alexsander and Pulskamp are worthy picks and I agree with Alexsander as the newcomer of the year.
CS - With USL roster turnover, there are so many ways you can go here. Just to be different I’ll go with Kaveh Rad. He’s been logging quite a few minutes at center back and even started ahead of Camden Riley who is fourth on the team in minutes. Rad’s 570 minutes leads all SKC Academy players under contract on an academy deal. He shows real promise and he just turned 18 last month.
ND - Felipe Hernandez has improved dramatically this season. He’s had two years to perfect his craft in the midfield, which has led to his success.
TB - For this I have to disagree with Nathan. For the most part, Hernandez has been the bright spot on SPR but he has been good in the past and is perhaps showing better this year because there is less around him. For me, the most improved is a toss up between Will Little and Kaveh Rad. Little failed to make much of an impact early in his career but has been a steady performer this year. Rad was on Academy contract last season but did not play. This year he has been extremely steady and part of SPR’s best performances this season.
CS - I’ll go with Nathan’s logic that Hernandez has made a big leap. He’s always been a good player, but clearly he’s a leader and he looks like a player that’s on the edge of making a jump to MLS.
Winner: Felipe Hernandez
ND - The disappointment of the half-season is Ethan Vanacore-Decker. The lack of consistency doesn’t help much, but I was still anticipating a breakout year for him. The 24 year old has made 14 appearances with eight starts and produced just two goals from 17 shots and no assists.
A struggle for the Rangers this season has been the production of the forward. Between the split time with Vanacore-Decker and Wilson Harris in which neither have found much success, it brings me back to Sporting KC in 2018 with Khiry Shelton.
TB - My biggest disappointment is the injury and retirement of Justin Bilyeu. Having him on the roster would have given SPR (and SKC) a little more room for substitution and rotation.
CS - I’ll take Nathan’s take, and do my own twist. Wilson Harris is my biggest disappointment. He has 12 appearances and 8 starts but he also has only two goals. No one has made that job their own and Harris skipped college to sign with the Rangers so I hope to see great improvement out of him.
Winner: Whoever is playing center forward
Most Valuable Player
ND - Leading the way has been Felipe Hernandez, who has scored seven goals from 16 matches. The 5’7” midfielder has a lethal right foot. Felipe’s seven goals comes off just 17 shots, which is 41%. For a basketball comparison, Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry shot a career high 42% from beyond the three point line in his MVP-winning season in 2014-15.
Hernandez’ pinpoint precision has led to seven goals and two assists from 1,271 minutes played from 15 appearances. Hernandez has stepped up this season after spending his previous two seasons with the Rangers, where he made 57 appearances, but only scored five goals and recorded seven assists.
TB - Agreed. Hernandez for MVP. Let’s hope he can keep it up and turn it into a MLS contract.
CS - Let’s make it unanimous. Give Hernandez his MLS contract!
Winner: Felipe Hernandez