The Swope Park Rangers and head coach Nikola Popovic have mutually agreed to part ways, the club announced on Friday.
Popovic served as an assistant coach during the Rangers’ inaugural 2016 campaign and took the head coaching role in 2017. This year he guided the club to a 17-8-7 regular-season record and its second straight Western Conference championship, making SPR the first team in USL history to make two consecutive appearances in the USL Cup Final.
“We appreciate Nikola’s service over the last two years,” Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes said. “At this club we are extremely supportive of people who are hungry and have big ambitions. If we can assist with those things, we are always going to do that. Nikola is embarking on some other endeavors, and we back him 100 percent. We are thankful for the time he has spent here.”
In his lone season as head coach, Popovic helped lead the Rangers to a fourth-place finish in the Western Conference. After emerging as conference champions, SPR fell just short of the league title with a 1-0 loss at Louisville City FC on Monday. Popovic’s 58 points through his first 32 regular-season games as a head coach were third-most in USL history.
Four SPR players earned first-team contracts with Sporting KC over the course of 2017, as defender Amer Didic, forward Kharlton Belmar and midfielders James Musa and Kevin Oliveira each made the jump to MLS. Popovic also fielded nine Sporting KC Academy products throughout the season, with former Academy players accounting for nearly 25 percent of the team’s playing time.
In addition to fostering on-field success and player development, Popovic deployed a possession-based playing style as SPR’s tactical approach mirrored that of Sporting KC. Much like its MLS parent club, the Rangers finished atop the USL charts in total passes per game and passing accuracy while also posting 11 shutouts with one of the league’s best defenses.
Upon joining the SPR coaching staff in 2016, Popovic helped the team to its first Western Conference title under former head coach Marc Dos Santos. Last year the Rangers became just the second expansion team to take part in a USL Cup Final.
The 44-year-old Popovic, a dual citizen of Serbia and Portugal, began his coaching career in 2005. He made stops in Portugal, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Spain, United Arab Emirates and Qatar prior to arriving in Kansas City.