The Swope Park Rangers will return six players from the side’s inaugural season, the club announced today. Captain Christian Duke, Amer Didic, Mark Anthony Gonzalez and Nansel Selbol have all had their contract options exercised, while Oumar Ballo has signed a new contract. All five transactions are pending USL and federation approval, while Gonzalez and Selbol are pending the receipt of their P-1 Visas. In addition, midfielder Kevin Oliveira is already under contract for the 2017 season.
“All the players that we are bringing back are players that we think can eventually move up to Sporting Kansas City,” Swope Park Rangers head coach Nikola Popovic said. “It only makes sense to keep players that can one day become first-team players, and all of them have the technical and tactical quality. On top of that, they can be flags of our culture - they showed last year through their behaviors that they are headed for success.”
Duke, 25, returns after being the only Rangers player to appear in all 34 regular-season and postseason games in 2016. The Overland Park, Kan. native started 33 of those games, adding two goals and one assist while leading the team in minutes with 2,929. Duke scored his first USL goal in over three years against LA Galaxy II on Aug. 27.
Ballo made 25 overall appearances for the Rangers in 2016, starting 20 and adding one assist against Portland Timbers 2 on June 4. The 25-year-old broke into the lineup in June and the Rangers went 12-4-3 when he started in their inaugural season.
Didic, 21, enjoyed a breakout rookie season in 2016, playing in 32 of the Rangers’ 34 total games, adding the game-winner against Seattle Sounders FC 2 on Sept. 24. Didic was named to the USL All-League First Team and was a finalist for USL Defender of the Year, while he also earned Swope Park Rangers Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was the first Rangers player to make his debut for Sporting KC, playing every minute of the side’s opening three CONCACAF Champions League matchups.
Didic and Ballo formed an impressive defensive partnership in the second half of the season with SPR going 13-1-2 when they started together in regular-season and postseason play.
Gonzalez led the team with 12 goals in his rookie season and added four assists across 31 total appearances. His nine regular-season goals led the team while he was tied for the team-lead alongside Kris Tyrpak with three strikes in the USL Cup Playoffs. Gonzalez’s 12 goals place him third for goals among rookies in the U.S., while the 22-year-old took home the Swope Park Rangers Offensive Player of the Year accolade.
Oliveira, 20, had three goals and a league-best four assists in 13 games before suffering a torn ACL in his left knee in late June, forcing him to miss the remainder of the campaign. Oliveira scored the first goal in club history from the penalty spot against Portland Timbers 2 on March 26, before earning USL Player of the Week honors after scoring once and assisting on the three other goals in a 4-0 win over Rio Grande Valley FC on June 8. The Sao Vicente, Cape Verde native was named second in the USL’s 20-Under-20 list in early August.
Selbol, 19, made 24 appearances for the Rangers after signing from the Sporting KC Academy, recording one goal and two assists. He scored the game-winner in his second professional appearance against Tulsa Roughnecks FC on April 2 and added the game-winning assist in the Western Conference Semifinal victory over Orange County Blues FC. The Jos, Nigeria native tallied the winner on his Sporting KC debut in the 3-1 victory over Central FC in the CONCACAF Champions League on Oct. 19.