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Sporting KC II Sign Ghanaian Striker; 17 Trialists and Preseason Schedule

The first season of MLS Next Pro is rapidly approaching.

FBL-AFR-AFCON-2021-2022-GHA-COM Photo by DANIEL BELOUMOU OLOMO/AFP via Getty Images

While the start of the 2022 MLS Next Pro season has not yet been announced, Sporting Kansas City II unveiled their preseason schedule and roster on Monday. Ahead of that announcement, they made what appears to be a low risk, high reward splash capturing a striker out of the Ghana Premier League.

The club announced the signing of Rauf Salifu on loan for the 2022 season, with the option to buy. The 19-year-old striker was the highest scorer in the second division last season and helped earn a promotion for his club, Accra Lions FC, to the top tier and to win a league title in the 2020-21 season. He bagged a stunning 21 goals last season in just 28 games.

Sporting KC II have done loans in the past, but nothing has really panned out in terms of a permanent move. However, with MLS Next Pro, the rules have changed. There is no salary cap, or maximum or minimum salary in MLS Next Pro. That leaves room for clubs to take a shot on a player that may pan out to be a potential first team player, but isn’t quite ready to step into the first team lineup (or take up an international roster spot in this case).

While Salifu competed in the second division of Ghana, SKC have a history of coming into that league and finding players. Specifically, Latif Blessing came over and that worked out pretty well (though mostly for LAFC — dang expansion draft!!).

Here are 20 of the 21 goals Salifu scored. There are some really ugly ones due to poor play by the other team, so it’ll be interesting to see how he stacks up against what will presumably be tougher competition. Since he’s moved up to the Ghana Premier League, the Lions have struggled and he has just three goals in 13 appearances with one assist. Not bad, but well off his 0.75 goals per game pace in the second division.

Rauf becomes just the fifth player signed to a second team deal, joining midfielders Collin Fernandez and Jahon Rad (twin brother of SKC defender Kaveh Rad), center back Aljaz Dzankic and left back Spencer Glass. Everyone but Fernandez is currently in Arizona participating in preseason with the first team.

VITALS (courtesy of SportingKC.com)

Rauf Salifu

Position: Forward

Born: 4/23/2002 (19 years old)

Height: 5-9

Weight: 150 lbs.

Hometown: Accra, Ghana

Birthplace: Accra, Ghana

Previous Club: Accra Lions FC (Ghana)

Citizenship: Ghana

It’ll also be interesting to see how he handles being away from home, since it appears he was born and has played in the same town his entire life.

17 Trialists Come to SKC II Preseason

The five rostered players will be joined by 17 players on trial and 11 players currently in the SKC Academy.

Trialists

  • Andrew Anyafo
  • Bakary Bagayoko
  • Ethan Bandre
  • Josh Coan
  • Esai Easley
  • Tijani Fatah
  • Akolade Gdadebo
  • Hugo Kametani
  • Curtez Kellman
  • Mason Leeth
  • Mauricio Lozano
  • Cole McLagan
  • Alex Meija
  • Mark Sallas
  • Brett St. Martin
  • Toni Suddoth
  • Cade Thomas

There are some familiar names on this list. Ethan Bandre was listed as a trialist for SKC’s preseason roster, though it was always likely he was headed for SKC II. Esai Easley and Brett St. Martin were 2022 SuperDraft picks for the first team. And Mason Leeth previously played for SKC II and as a member of the SKC Academy before heading to play at St. Louis University, where he’d still be an underclassman. SLU had quite the SuperDraft his year, having two picks go in the top five and four total in the first 16 selections.

My colleague, Mike Kuhn, did some research on the players and most of them are out of college, but there are a few from other avenues. We’ll have more on them, if and when some of them make the team.

11 SKC Academy Members

  • Braxton Arpachinda
  • Draven Barnett
  • Edgar Bazan
  • Mataeo Bunbury
  • Matthew Fisher
  • Daniel Gutierrez
  • Mason Hart
  • Coby Jones
  • Alex Kara
  • Nico Pendleton
  • Carlito Saylon

More familiar names for fans of SKC II as Mataeo Bunbury burst onto the scene in 2021. He was joined by Daniel Gutierrez and Coby Jones. Nico Pendleton also earned time joining SKC II for preseason last year.

2022 Preseason Schedule

In addition to who was coming to preseason, the team announced their schedule (all times CST).

  • Saturday, Feb. 19 - 12 p.m. - Indy Eleven (USL Championship) - Indianapolis, Ind.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 23 - 10 a.m. - Chicago Fire FC (MLS NEXT Pro) - Indianapolis, Ind.
  • Saturday, March 5 - 2 p.m. - FC Tulsa (USL Championship) - Tulsa, Okla.
  • Saturday, March 12 - 2 p.m. - Union Omaha (USL League One) - Kansas City, Mo.
  • Saturday, March 19 - 2 p.m. - Kansas City Roos Men’s Soccer (Summit League) - Kansas City, Mo.

No home preseason games until March, but Sporting II will get a chance to face some old foes from the USLC as well as the newly formed Chicago Fire FC second team. Both home games will be at Swope Soccer Village. The MLS Next Pro schedule is expected to start before the end of March and details are still to come on where the team will play and which of these players will fill out the roster outside of Academy contracts and first team loans.