For the second straight year, the Swope Park Rangers are on the precipice of USL Cup glory. The back-to-back Western Conference champions advanced to this exact stage in 2016, only to fall short of a league title in their inaugural season. With unfinished business still at hand, the Rangers will travel to face Louisville City in the 2017 USL Cup Final on Monday, airing live nationally at 8 p.m. CT on ESPNU.
During the week leading up to the championship match, SportingKC.com is visiting seven relevant storylines surrounding the biggest game of the United Soccer League season. In Part Four, SPR forward Kharlton Belmar takes center stage as he aims to reach a historic goal scoring landmark in Louisville.
- Part One: The Road to the Final
- Part Two: SPR seeks road breakthrough
- Part Three: The next among KC soccer champs?
Kharlton Belmar has made quite the impression in his first campaign with the Swope Park Rangers.
After spending his first two professional seasons with Portland Timbers 2 — a stint highlighted by 2015 USL Rookie of the Year honors — Belmar has taken a major step in 2017 as SPR's most prolific scorer. His club-record 15 goals (including playoffs) are tied for fourth in the USL, while his 31 appearances are a stipulation that SPR head coach Nikola Popovic places great value in the Virginia Commonwealth product.
Subtract penalty kick goals from every USL player's total tally, and Belmar's 15 strikes are tied for the most in the USL alongside Dane Kelly of Reno 1868 FC and Romario Williams of the Charleston Battery.
That's not to mention Belmar's first-team contract with Sporting Kansas City, signed on Sept. 15 after nearly six months of standout play with the Rangers. He made his MLS debut less than a month later at the Houston Dynamo, adding gloss to what had already become a breakthrough year for the 24-year-old.
Now, as Belmar looks to add an emphatic exclamation point to 2017 with a USL Cup, an opportunity arises for him to enter elite company in the annals of professional soccer in Kansas City. His 15 non-penalty goals are one shy of tying multiple Kansas City players for the most in the modern professional era. Three other individuals have scored 16 non-penalty league goals in a season (including playoffs) while plying their trade in the City of Fountains.
MOST NON-PENALTY LEAGUE GOALS IN A SINGLE SEASON
(MODERN ERA OF PRO SOCCER IN KANSAS CITY)
|Miklos Molnar||16||2000||Kansas City Wizards|
|Amy Rodriguez||16||2014||FC Kansas City|
|Dom Dwyer||16||2014||Sporting KC|
|Dom Dwyer||16||2016||Sporting KC|
|Kharlton Belmar||15||2017||Swope Park Rangers|
Belmar, a native of Virginia Beach, Virginia, is one of six SPR players who has earned an MLS contract with Sporting KC based on his stellar contributions at the USL level. Tyler Pasher and Adrian Zendejas inked first-team contracts last December before Belmar, Amer Didic, James Musa and Kharlton Belmar followed suit in 2017. This upward movement shines light on the exemplary player development taking place under head coach Nikola Popovic, who has guided his side back to the USL Cup Final after serving as an SPR assistant in 2016.
While Belmar's offensive production has flowed consistently throughout the campaign, he has saved his very best for the stretch run. The forward has six goals and two assists in his last eight games, and although he didn't score or assist in Saturday's scoreless draw with OKC Energy FC in the Western Conference Final, he did convert his penalty in a thrilling shootout that saw Zendejas make four saves and bury the match-winning spot kick.
Monday's USL Cup Final against Louisville City FC will kick off at 8 p.m. CT inside Louisville Slugger Field, airing live on ESPNU. All Rangers fans are invited to the official watch party for the match at No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District, with drink specials and giveaways beginning at 7 p.m. CT.