The Swope Park Rangers will play their first home match of the 2019 USL Championship season against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, the league announced Friday in an unveil of home openers for all 36 clubs. SPR’s inaugural meeting with Pittsburgh is scheduled for Saturday, March 23, at Children’s Mercy Park.
All dates and kickoff times for Rangers home matches at Children’s Mercy Park in 2019 are subject to change pending the release of Sporting Kansas City’s MLS regular season schedule at a later date. SPR’s full, 34-game USL Championship schedule will be announced later this month.
Friday’s announcement also revealed that SPR will kick off their 2019 campaign at New York Red Bulls II in a rematch of the 2016 USL Cup Final. The Eastern Conference clash is one of 17 opening-day fixtures slated for Saturday, March 9, the most on a single day in the league’s history.
The USL Championship announced Thursday that the Rangers will shift to the Eastern Conference in 2019, having competed in the West in each of their first three seasons. Led by second-year head coach and former Sporting KC midfielder Paulo Nagamura, SPR made consecutive USL Cup Final appearances as Western Conference champions in 2016 and 2017 before falling to Phoenix Rising FC in the conference semifinals last October.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC placed third in the Eastern Conference in 2018, their highest USL Championship finish in club history. Head coach Bob Lilley’s side conceded a league-low 26 goals and posted a 15-5-14 regular season record, good for the second-fewest losses in the USL Championship, but suffered a penalty shootout defeat to Bethlehem Steel FC following a 2-2 draw in the conference quarterfinals.
New York Red Bulls II were crowned 2016 USL Cup champions when they beat SPR in the Final at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Former MLS veteran John Wolyniec has served as head coach since the club launched in 2015 and has taken Red Bulls II to the playoffs in all four seasons, including their run to the conference final last November. After knocking off Charleston Battery and top-seeded FC Cincinnati in the first two rounds of the 2018 postseason, New York took a 5-1 loss to eventual champions Louisville City FC, who captured their second straight USL Cup title a week later against Phoenix.
The Rangers will return seven players from the 2018 season, which culminated with a 15-11-8 record and a seventh-place finish in the West. Four Sporting KC Academy products are on the roster—Camilo Benitez, Wilson Harris, Felipe Hernandez and Will Little—while Rassambek Akhmatov, Justin Bilyeu and Ethan Vanacore-Decker are also under contract.