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Sporting KC II Season Preview: Everything You Need to Know

What’s changed? Who’s in? Who’s out? We answer it all.

Felipe Hernandez beating a defender in a preseason match
Thad Bell

The 2020 season is about to kick off for Swope Park Rangers Sporting Kansas City II. The newly rebranded USL Championship team enters 2020 coming off their worst season in existence. But there are reasons for optimism. There is a lot of talent on the SKC II roster as well as plenty of players that are likely to be loaned down from the first team.

2019 Recap

Record: 6-20-8 (26 points)

Goals For: 46

Goals Against: 80

Goal Differential: -34

2019 marked the first time that the then Swope Park Rangers had even missed the playoffs and they did it in stunning fashion. They moved to the Eastern Conference and finished in last place.

It also marked a youth movement as the team was comprised nearly entirely of young academy players, Sporting KC loanees and youth players from around the country and the world. The team struggled, but valuable experience was gained for the young core.

Who Returns?

Sporting KC II return seven players* and their head coach. Paulo Nagamura is back in charge for his third season. He went to the playoffs before being bounced by Phoenix Rising in 2018 before the precipitous drop-off in 2019.

As for the roster, while it’s only seven players officially coming back, the number is likely to be much higher when you factor in loans from SKC and SKC Academy players who will play before their either go off to college in the fall or signing pro contracts.

Returning Players: Wilson Harris (CF), Ze Pedro (Wing), Kaveh Rad (CB), Luis Olivera (LB), Camden Riley (CDM/CB), Brooks Thompson (GK) and Will Little (FWD).

*Kaveh Rad is listed as a returning player as he was on the team in 2019 on an Academy contract, though he just signed a full deal this offseason. Also John Pulskamp was originally brought back but has since signed a Homegrown deal with the first team. All indications are he’ll spend a lot of time on loan with SKC II.

New Signings

The first new signing of the offseason wasn’t “new” at all. Christian Duke, the team’s very first signing in club history, returned on January 6th. He should captain the midfield along with potential SKC loanees Felipe Hernandez, Wan Kuzain and Duke’s little brother Cameron Duke.

The team also added lots of young players who had been overseas including midfielder Duval Wapiwo (Czech Republic), center back Petar Cuic (Croatia), striker Dominik Resetar (Croatia) and former United States youth international CB Danny Barbir (Romania).

New Signings: Christian Duke (Mid), Duval Wapiwo (Mid), Petar Cuic (CB), Dominik Resetar (Fwd), Danny Barbir (CB), Remi Prieur (GK), Fredinho Mompremier (Fwd), Enoch Mushagalusa (Fwd), Sam Raben (RB), Dillon Serna (Mid)

Likely Sporting KC Loanees

First on the list are Felipe Hernandez and Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal. Both spent preseason with SKC II instead of staying with the first team. That has to be a sign that the midfielders will be on loan to SKC II much of 2020. That and the midfield on the first team is very deep.

Next up is new Sporting KC Homegrown signing Cameron Duke. He’s played all over the field for SKC in the preseason (RB, CM, LW) so it’s unclear where he’ll line up for the second team but I suspect he’ll get lots of minutes. I’m projecting him to the wing or RB due to the logjam at midfielder.

Tyler Freeman is another Homegrown player to watch. He spent much of 2019 on the wing but he’s been back in the midfield for much of preseason, which could be his best position. Look for him to have a breakout year.

Graham Smith is buried deep on the SKC bench and is likely headed for a lot of minutes in the USL Championship. He could be joined by other SKC players like former Premier League center back Winston Reid who is looking to get fully fit to break into the first team.

Goalkeeper John Pulskamp, despite signing to the first team, is likely to be the main keeper for SKC II this season. Eric Dick is out on loan with Phoenix Rising and it should be a battle between Pulskamp and Thompson for most of SKC II’s minutes.

There are likely to be other loans to SKC II for players not getting enough minutes with the first team. Players potentially like Jaylin Lindsey, Gianluca Busio and Daniel Salloi. They should be rotating in more with Sporting this year, but don’t rule out loans.

Plus there are always loans for players that are getting fit, suspended or returning from injury (see Roger Espinoza for most of those categories in 2019).

What is Different About 2020?

While 2019 was a rough year, 2020 looks more promising. First, the team is a little older. While they have a youth movement in full effect again, their average age is just under 22, which is actually older. They’ll be bolstered by veterans like Christian Duke (28), Dillon Serna (25) and Graham Smith (24).

Plus, this young core has had a year to learn and grown. Many of these players have played together in the SKC Academy and taking their lumps in 2019 in the USL Championship will make them better.

Potential Breakout Star

20-year-old striker Wilson Harris will look to take a leap forward in 2020. He’s a natural goal scorer but he struggled for minutes early in his professional career. In 2019, he didn’t get on the field a ton early in the year, but when he finally did, he lit the team on fire. He had a team best 12 goals in 19 starts (25 appearances). Look for that form to continue if preseason form with the first team is any indication.

New Jerseys for 2020

Along with the rebrand comes new kits to match the Sporting KC family. They are simple and clean and ditch the orange that belongs in Houston and not on a Kansas City team. Hopefully the designs will get more exciting when there is a longer time frame to prepare jersey designs (it’s a long process if you hadn’t heard).

Courtesy of Sporting Kansas City

Expectations for 2020

It’s unlikely SKC II will be at the top of the standings. But the expectation from the organization and the fans might be different. The team wants to continue to develop young talent. Winning isn’t everything. But, the players and the fans no doubt have hopes that SKC II can battle for a playoff spot. The USLC is a big league with lots of teams, but the hope has to be to contend for one of the 10 playoff spots in the East.

Starting XI Prediction

With all the loans and likely squad rotation, this will probably be way off, but let’s throw it out there.

Fully know this lineup probably won’t be right. Freeman has been a midfielder most of preseason. Raben has been at right back a lot. There have been a bunch of center backs. It’s hard to predict.

Sporting KC II Schedule

SKC II kick off their season at home this Sunday, March 8th when they host the Charlotte Independence. In past seasons, SKC season ticket members could get free tickets to SKC II games. I highly recommend you check out the home team. All their games are also streamed on ESPN+, even locally. For the full schedule, we’ve got you covered.

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