The Oppo: Sporting KC II
Not this year you Rangers.
Another episode, another divisional adversary. This time on the table is Sporting KC II. A team slowly slipping to the bottom of the table before our eyes. Yet, a tough nut to crack for the Legion still. Birmingham Legion will get a few more opportunities to figure it out this year though. The first try being July 18th when the Legion visits the former Rangers at Children’s Mercy Park.
Once so close to gold, Sporting KC II now flounder at the bottom of the table. Sporting KC II roared into the USL in 2016 as the Swope Park Rangers (the name was changed prior to the 2020 season). Claiming a spot in the top 4 of the Western Division both years, moving from 9th to 5th in the overall table, and finishing second in the playoffs each year, it only seemed like a matter of time for the Rangers. Then the change.
The coaching staff that led them so close to gold left, and the numbers dropped. Sporting went from 5th overall in 2017 to 36th overall in 2019, and did not qualify for playoffs in the 2018 or 2019 seasons. The season that was 2020 saw the Rangers get a bump up the table to 23rd, but that was more down to hardships for other clubs than the great play of Sporting Kansas City II. They still finished their return to play group in dead last (4th). They played 16 games and lost 10. A nice reflection of their -9 goal differential.
Paulo Nagamura is the man in charge of the sinking ship. Paulo played for Sporting KC in MLS from 2011 to 2016, where he then joined the reserve coaching staff. That staff being Marc Dos Santos, and Nikola Popovic. Those names will be remembered fondly by Swope Park Ranger supporters, but that’s in the past.
Having spent those first years under their tutelage, and winning two conference titles, one would think that Nagamura would be able to imbibe and impart some of the same knowledge to future generations. That doesn’t seem to be going so well though. So far it has all been lacking under Paulo’s leadership. Sporting KC II came in last place in their group last season, and already have a 2-1 preseason loss to Union Omaha.
While all this looks good for the Legions first visit on July 18, Sporting and Birmingham have only met twice before and Birmingham has just one point and a -2 goal differential to show for it.
Swope Park Rangers are currently only standing at 12 men on their roster, and only 9 of those are returning from last season. Sporting KC II lost forward Preston Judd to the LA Galaxy and defender Aedan Stanley to Austin FC, both being MLS clubs.
Of the nine men returning from the 2020 season look out for Petar Cuic. The Croatian is a versatile defender, able to play in the midfield, and most importantly, able to create goals. The 21 year old played every match for Sporting KC II last year. He was involved in 4 goals throughout, and even bagged one of the four himself.
If they can get their academy prospect, Kayden Pierre who assisted the loan goal in their preseason defeat, alongside or in front of Cuic, then maybe Sporting will find some of that service it’s sorely been lacking.
Nagamura and co are looking to fill their roster before the start of the USL season. This much is clear when you look at the list of the 21 players that played in their first preseason match. He’ll look to narrow that down, and lock a few players in, with two more preseason matches scheduled before May 1st.
The 2021 USL season schedule looks pretty tame for the Rangers this year. A nice change of pace from last year should help Nagamura guide Sporting KC II back up the ranks. He’ll be hoping for a quick start from during the opening of the season before the real test comes in June.
June sees the Rangers play at home only twice, luckily breaking up what would be a massive away streak for the team. However, the travel to and fro might prove too much at the end of the month, where they’ll play 4 games in 2 weeks, only one of which is at home.
Oh, and one of those away matches just happens to be against OKC Energy FC.
It’s not looking good for Sporting KC II again this year. Losing talent to MLS sides, which is a good thing really, is going to hurt. Time isn’t on their side. History isn’t on this team’s side either. If anything, look for lots of rotation in this year’s Sporting KC II line up. Maybe next year they’ll have a more solid core to work with.
Final Grade: F
If the past two years with Nagamura are any indication as to what to expect this year, then don’t expect too much. Previous poor performances, paired with a roster barely boasting a starting line up, and very little time to fill it, make it look like another nightmare year for Sporting KC II fans.