USL Kickoff Weekend

2016 USL Western Conference Preview: Meet the Swope Park Rangers opponents

The 2016 USL season will feature no shortage of storylines for the Swope Park Rangers. Familiar faces, like Jimmy Nielsen, will come back to KC. In-state bragging rights will be up for grabs against Saint Louis FC. Road trips will take the team north of the border to meet Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 and also to the U.S.-Mexico border to play RGV FC.

There will be homegrown talent on display in their own backyards and others who have already been seen on the international stage. And, of course, there are ultimately trophies to be won.

So before the games begin, let's take a look at who the Swope Park Rangers -- one of four newcomers in the Western Conference -- will be up against in 2016.  

Head Coach: Frank Yallop

2015: 10-16-2, 10th place

Meeting: July 9 (away)

Notable: The Swope Park Rangers played to a 0-0 draw against Arizona United SC on Feb. 20 at the 2016 Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson, Arizona.

Players to Watch: After a 13-year coaching career in MLS, Frank Yallop now leads an Arizona United roster that features three players taken in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft: Blair Gavin (45 MLS appearances), Tony Cascio (48 MLS appearances) and Sam Garza (12 MLS appearances).

Head Coach: Steve Trittschuh

2015: 14-10-4, 3rd place, Conference Semifinals

Meeting: July 20 (away)

Notable: Head coach Steve Trittschuh logged 37 caps with the U.S. Men's National Team, including appearances in the 1988 Summer Olympics and 1990 FIFA World Cup alongside Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes.

Player to Watch: The club's first-ever signing, 33-year-old midfielder Luke Vercollone contributed 14 goals (4th most in USL) and 9 assists (2nd most in USL) last year to earn a spot on the All-League First Team.

Head Coach: Curt Onalfo

2015: 14-11-3, 5th place, USL Championship

Meeting: Aug. 27 (home)

Notable: LA Galaxy II became the first MLS owned and operated club in USL in 2014 and are led by head coach Curt Onalfo, who was manager of the Kansas City Wizards from 2007-2009 and D.C. United in 2010. SPR defender Tommy Meyer spent time with LA Galaxy II in 2015.

Player to Watch: The son of former Kansas City striker Roy Lassiter, 21-year-old forward Ariel Lassiter scored 11 goals in the regular season a year ago and added four goals in the 2015 USL Playoffs to lead LA Galaxy II to the USL Championship.

Head Coach: Jimmy Nielsen

2015: 13-7-8, 1st place, Conference Finals

Meetings: April 23 (away), June 18 (home), July 12 (home), Sept. 18 (away)

Notable: An affiliate of Sporting Kansas City in 2014 and 2015, OKC Energy FC is led by head coach Jimmy Nielsen. The White Puma capped off a four-year career with Sporting KC in 2013 by winning MLS Cup at Children's Mercy Park. SPR captain Christian Duke and defender Jacob VanCompernolle each played in OKC last season. The club's current roster features former Sporting KC players Cyprian Hedrick and Michael Thomas, as well as SKC Academy product Jordan Rideout.

Player to Watch: 29-year-old forward Danni König was the top scorer in the USL's Western Conference last year with 21 goals in the regular season.

Head Coach: Oliver Wyss

2015: 14-9-5, 1st place, Conference Semifinals

Meeting: July 23 (home)

Notable: The only member of the Western Conference which has played in all six USL seasons since the start of the league in 2011, the Orange County Blues have reached the playoffs in three of the last five seasons but will be seeking their first postseason victory in 2016.

Players to Watch: 31-year-old defender Steve Purdy represented El Salvador at the 2011 and 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cups. The Orange County Blues defense will also be bolstered by the arrival of 26-year-old goalkeeper Brandon Miller, who was the USL Goalkeeper of the Year in 2015 after leading the Rochester Rhinos to the regular season and postseason titles.

Head Coach: Andrew Gregor

2015: 11-15-2, 8th place

Meetings: March 26 (home), June 4 (away)

Notable: Timbers 2 head coach Andrew Gregor made 23 appearances across all competitions for the Kansas City Wizards in 2001. Overland Park, Kansas native Nick Besler, the younger brother of Sporting KC captain Matt Besler, returns to the Timbers 2 roster in 2016 for his second professional season.

Player to Watch: 19-year-old midfielder Akinjide Idowu captained Nigeria to the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup title and most recently represented his country at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Head Coach: Freddy Juarez

2015: 7-13-8, 12th place

Meeting: Aug. 13 (away)

Notable: Real Monarchs boasted the largest crowd of the 2015 USL season with 13,979 fans in attendance for their 2-1 win over Seattle Sounders 2 at Rio Tinto Stadium on Aug. 28. 

Player to Watch: 22-year-old midfielder Omar Holness was the fifth overall pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft by Real Salt Lake. The UNC product is a full Jamaican international and was on his country's 35-player roster for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Head Coach: Wilmer Cabrera

2015: N/A

Meetings: May 21 (away), June 8 (home), Sept. 3 (home)

Notable: As a player, Wilmer Cabrera was selected to Colombia's roster for two FIFA World Cups (1990, 1998). As a coach, Cabrera led the U.S. Under-17 Men's National Team (2007-2012) and most recently managed Chivas USA in their final season.

Players to Watch: 18-year-old Houston Dynamo academy products Juan “Charly” Flores and Christian Lucatero were the first two signings for expansion club Rio Grande Valley. Flores has logged 66 goals in the last three U.S. Soccer Development Academy campaigns; meanwhile, Lucatero has notched 31 goals in his last 36 games in the USSDA. Both are U.S. youth internationals.

Head Coach: Paul Buckle

2015: 13-8-7, 3rd place, First Round

Meeting: May 28 (away)

Notable: A club with ambitions of joining MLS, Sacramento Republic won the USL Championship in 2014 and led all USL clubs in 2015 with an average attendance of 11,323. Adnan Gabeljic, drafted by Sporting KC in 2014, scored five goals in all competitions for Sacramento last season, including a hat trick in the U.S. Open Cup.

Player to Watch: 20-year-old forward Tommy Thompson represented the United States at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup and, prior to Jordan Morris, signed the largest homegrown player deal in MLS history with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2014.

Head Coach: Dale Schilly

2015: 8-11-9, 9th place

Meetings: May 7 (away), July 2 (home), Aug. 3 (away), Aug. 21 (home)

Notable: Sporting Kansas City hosted Saint Louis FC in the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, earning a 1-0 win in front of a record-setting crowd of 19,298 at Children's Mercy Park on June 16.

Player to Watch: 28-year-old midfielder Chad Bond was signed in the offseason from the Tulsa Roughnecks, where he recorded eight assists -- fourth most in the USL -- last season.

Head Coach: Darren Powell

2015: N/A

Meetings: April 9 (away), July 30 (home), Aug. 31 (home)

Notable: The newest members of the USL, San Antonio FC went unbeaten in preseason and most recently recorded a 1-0 win over in-state rivals Rio Grande Valley on March 19.

Player to Watch: 20-year-old defender Bobby Moseley, a youth international for the Republic of Ireland, has joined San Antonio FC on loan from EPL side Stoke City FC.

Head Coach: Ezra Hendrickson

2015: 13-12-3, 6th place, First Round

Meeting: June 26 (away), Sept. 24 (home)

Notable: The Seattle Sounders FC 2 host the first Western Conference game of the 2016 season when they welcome Sacramento Republic FC to Starfire Stadium at 9:30 p.m. CT on Friday live on

Player to Watch: It's been a big month for 23-year-old goalkeeper Tyler Miller. He made his MLS debut on March 12 and was recently named to the United States Under-23 Men's National Team for the Olympic qualifying playoff against Colombia.

Head Coach: David Irving

2015: 11-11-6, 7th place

Meetings: April 2 (away), May 14 (home), Aug. 6 (away), Sept. 10 (home)

Notable: Swope Park Rangers goalkeeper Zac Lubin captained the Tulsa Roughnecks in their debut season in 2015 and led all USL goalkeepers with 4.87 saves per game. Tulsa will now turn to Jake Feener in net.

Player to Watch: 29-year-old forward Sammy Ochoa, an MLS and Liga MX veteran, led the Roughnecks with nine goals in 2015. He signed a two-year contract with the club in the offseason.

Head Coach: Alan Koch

2015: 8-14-6, 11th place

Meetings: April 27 (home), June 12 (away)

Notable: In February, Vancouver signed 15-year-old Alphonso Davies as the youngest player in the USL. On Wednesday, 26-year-old forward Kyle Greig -- the oldest player on the squad -- was named club captain. Greig played collegiately for Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas and also featured for the Kansas City Brass.

Player to Watch: 21-year-old defender Deklan Wynne is a New Zealand international who represented his country at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup last summer and could have appeared in the Olympics this summer if not for controversy surrounding his eligibility that cost the All Whites their spot in Rio de Janeiro.