Top 10 Moments of 2017: Homegrowns arrive and Rangers shine

Before the calendar turns to 2018, is counting down the top 10 moments from Sporting Kansas City’s 2017 season. From thrilling wins and heroic performances to individual accolades and new arrivals, let’s revisit the very best of 2017.

10. Youth Movement

Full disclosure: the first stop on our countdown actually consists of two separate moments, but both are intertwined in offering proof that Sporting KC’s professional pipeline is bearing wholesome fruit.

On Aug. 25, forward Gianluca Busio became the second-youngest player in MLS history when the 15-year-old inked a Homegrown deal with Sporting KC. Busio has starred in recent years for the Sporting KC Academy and established himself as one of the best youth prospects in the United States, featuring at the U-15 and U-17 levels.

Less than three weeks later, Sporting KC added another Homegrown product to the ranks when 17-year-old defender Jaylin Lindsey signed an MLS contract that will begin Jan. 1, 2018. Like Busio, Lindsey has extensive experience as the youth international and played frequently for the U.S. U-17s throughout 2017.

Busio and Lindsey — the first and third-youngest signings in club history — represent an integral facet of Sporting KC’s DNA moving forward. As Major League Soccer continues to grow in global stature, Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes has repeatedly underlined the importance of developing Academy stars into legitimate first-team contributors. And while Busio and Lyndsey have yet to make their mark in the top flight of American soccer, they provide a beacon of hope that Vermes’ vision will indeed come to fruition.

Consequently, the arrivals of Busio and Lindsey within the space of 20 late-summer days is no small development in the grander scope of Sporting KC’s future.

9. Rangers Rise Again

Clubs and supporters across the United Soccer League underwent a serious case of déjà vu this fall when the Swope Park Rangers were crowned USL Western Conference champions for the second time in as many years of existence.

The accomplishment was eerily similar the second time around, as the No. 4-seeded Rangers saw higher seeds in the West suffer postseason elimination and pave the way for three straight home games in the playoff bracket. Fast-forward to the Western Conference Final, and SPR was matched up against former Sporting KC captain Jimmy Nielsen and OKC Energy FC.

On a brisk November evening at Children’s Mercy Park, SPR and OKC scrapped to a scoreless draw through 120 minutes, setting the stage for penalty kicks. In the 11-round epic that followed, 22-year-old goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas — on loan from Sporting KC — put on his proverbial Superman cape. Zendejas saved four spot kicks before burying the game-winning penalty to ignite celebrations inside the stadium and give the Rangers their second conference title.

Under first-year head coach Nikola Popovic, the Rangers became the first team in USL history to make consecutive appearances in the USL Cup Final.

More importantly, however, SPR thrived in every area the club was intended to serve heading into 2017. Sporting KC Academy products stepped into the professional spotlight. Multiple players blossomed at the USL level and made the jump to MLS. Popovic even mirrored the playing style of Manager Peter Vermes and Sporting KC, further solidifying the all-important bridge between the Academy and the first team.