One half of the USL Championship season has come and gone. It’s taken some time for the Swope Park Rangers to adjust in their first year in the Eastern Conference, but they are beginning to turn the corner. While they currently find themselves in 17th place, the competitive nature of the USL Championship gives the Rangers time to get back into the playoff hunt while further developing rising stars.
Success at Home
The Swope Park Rangers have experienced most of their success at home. Ten of their 12 points have come at world-class Children’s Mercy Park. The Rangers only have seven home games left this season, so don’t miss out on your chance to see the boys. Tickets are sold two hours before kickoff at the stadium box office or online at SeatGeek.com. Your next chance is Wednesday, July 17 against Hartford Athletic.
Eleven different players have scored for the Rangers and seven have recorded assists. Leading all scorers is midfielder Felipe Hernandez with seven. In second is forward Ethan Vanacore-Decker with three. Forwards Jerome Ngom Mbekeli and Wilson Harris have two goals apiece. Brazilian leftback Alexsander has set the pace in assists with five. Forward Killian Colombie sits in second with three assists, while Hernandez and Mbekeli have two. Four different goalies have started for the Rangers this season. Eric Dick and Adrian Zendejas have both started six times. Dick has made 31 saves, including an impressive 12 save performance in the first game of the season. Zendejas has made 18 saves.
A Pipeline to the Pros
The Swope Park Rangers have been a melting pot of Sporting KC loanees, former Academy players and players on USL contracts. The Rangers and head coach Paulo Nagamura have created an excellent culture of development and improvement. Eleven players have played for the Rangers this year that are currently rostered on Sporting Kansas City, including the likes of Gianluca Busio and Graham Smith. Busio has scored three goals for the first team and made 12 MLS appearances. Smith has started four games on the backline of the first team while also featuring in 11 games for the Rangers.
The Rangers have also served as the next step for the Sporting KC academy. A total of 18 former Academy players are rostered on the Rangers and 13 have made appearances. Hernandez, who leads the team in scoring and has the third-most assists, is a former Academy player. Harris is also an Academy product and has two goals in 12 appearances.
SPR has also served as a place for talent to be cultivated. Ten players on USL contracts have played for the Rangers, supplying nine goals and 11 assists. Alexsander falls into this category along with Sporting KC’s second round MLS SuperDraft pick Camden Riley. Alexsander leads the team in assists and Riley was called up for Sporting KC’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match in Minnesota on June 12. In the second half of the season, the Rangers will continue to put an emphasis on developing the future of Sporting Kansas City.
An Emphasis on Youth
With all of these Academy products comes a lot of youth. The average age of the starting lineups for the Rangers has not crested over 22 years old. The youngest lineup was 20.9 years old. With this much youth and player development in mind, the starting XI has been switched up constantly. Remarkably, no two starting lineups have been the exact same this year. In 17 matches, 17 different starting XIs have been used. This has allowed 30 different players to not only make appearances but also start for the Rangers. Only defender Mark Segbers has featured in every single game.
Top Moments Thus Far
Late Winner vs Louisville City FC (May 6)
This was a cold rainy night at Children’s Mercy Park in which both teams had to deal with a 62-minute delay. The Rangers jumped out to a 2-0 lead after Hernandez and Rassambek Akhmatov scored within five minutes of each other. Louisville would come back and score two before the 60th minute and made it a game. Neither side could get the breakthrough and the match looked destined for a draw—that is until the 90th minute. The Rangers won a free kick near midfield and took full advantage. Alexsander sent an impeccable service into the box that Abdul Rwatubyaye got a head on and flicked over the goalkeeper, prompting wild celebrations on the rain-soaked pitch. SPR held on in stoppage time and got their first win of the season.
All Rangers Goal vs. Memphis 901 FC (May 22)
A goal that would make Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp jealous. Every single Ranger on the field touched the ball, 23 passes were made and in the 68th minute Mark Segbers got his first goal of the season. The ball started back with Eric Dick and worked its way all the way up the field. It took about a minute to develop but it culminated in Alexsander’s third assist when he found Segbers on the back door.
🔹 23 passes— Swope Park Rangers (@SwopeRangers) May 23, 2019
🔹 Every Rangers player touched the ball
🔹 One of the best team goals you'll see all @USLChampionship season
Congratulations on your first SPR goal, @urMARKgetSEGgo! pic.twitter.com/0a1uB3G6Sq
Eric Dick’s Save of the Week vs. North Carolina FC (June 15)
In week 15, the Rangers traveled to face North Carolina FC. There were over 100 saves that week in the USL Championship, but none were better than Eric Dick’s quick reaction save in the 52nd minute. Robert Kristo broke through the SPR defense but had the door slammed on him. Dick quickly got his forearm on the ball and redirected it off the post. His quick reactions earned him Week 15 Save of the Week honors by a landslide.
Rangers fans, our very own Eric Dick is up for @USLChampionship Save of the Week for this awe-inspiring stop! Use the link below to vote for @DaBrickWall00.— Swope Park Rangers (@SwopeRangers) June 18, 2019
🗳️ → https://t.co/sXBHtMkkYv pic.twitter.com/dfPqEHvCYx
Sinking Saint Louis FC (June 30)
Simply put, it doesn't get much better than beating an archrival. That's exactly what SPR did when they edged Saint Louis FC 2-1 at the end of June.
The Rangers’ place in the Eastern Conference doesn’t tell the story of their season. There have been a lot of competitive matches and a lot of positives to take away from the first half of the season. This youthful team is hungry and looking to get back into the Eastern Conference mix, so expect a lot high energy soccer from SPR in the second half of the campaign. Don’t miss the chance to see these boys in action and the future of Sporting Kansas City.