Photo courtesy Chris Ortiz / Swope Park Rangers
For the second year in the row the Swope Park Rangers reached the USL Cup, becoming the first club in the league's modern history to appear in back-to-back championship games, but for the second year in a row they finished the year without a victory in the final game of the season. The late defeat to Louisville City FC ended another impressive season for the Rangers in frustrating fashion, which could be the fuel for a run to the title in 2018.
The Rangers exceeded 2016 in almost every single way, with more wins (17), draws (7), and goals (55) and fewer losses (8). Under Head Coach Nikola Popovic the Rangers changed their style, which saw the side regularly control the tempo of the game and provide a brand of entertaining soccer as the club matured, confident in its ability to win matches, moving forward and looking to achieve results in an exciting manner with an array of fine attacking weapons.
Record: 17-8-7, 58pts
Place: Fourth in the Western Conference
Goals For: 55
Goals Against: 37
USL Cup Playoffs: Western Conference Quarterfinal (W 1-1 AET, 4-2 on penalties vs. Phoenix Rising FC), Western Conference Semi-final (W 1-0 vs. Sacramento Republic FC), Western Conference Final (W 0-0 AET, 7-6 on penalties vs. OKC Energy FC), USL Cup (L 1-0 vs. Louiville City FC)
2017 leaders: Kharlton Belmar (14 goals), Christian Duke (7 assists), Adrian Zendejas (47 saves)
When Nikola Popovic was promoted to the Head Coach role it was with a specific mission, and the reversion to a possession-oriented style that was maximized by central midfielders Christian Duke and James Musa provided a strong backbone for the club to add sharp attacking patterns to its repertoire. In Kharlton Belmar the Rangers had a proven goalscorer and he backed that up, leading the team with 14 goals as the Rangers dramatically increased their goal scoring tally for the season, recording 55 goals, as contributions from Nansel Selbol and Lebo Moloto allowed the club to tally 10 more goals in the regular season than in 2016.
While the Rangers managed an impressive 11 wins at home, they were not as convincing on the road, winning just six games away from Kansas City. That made finishing fourth in the Western Conference vitally important as it earned the club at least one home playoff game, and when things fell the Rangers' way during the postseason they were able to continue their outstanding home form in securing a second consecutive Western Conference championship. Sent on the road for the USL Cup, however, and despite a solid display against Louisville, a breakthrough never arrived as the hosts once again took home the silverware at Slugger Field.
The Rangers stole in their own half possession and launched a swift counterattack, with the ball eventually squared to Nansel Selbol on the edge of the penalty area for a perfect first-time finish that bent around the goalkeeper and into the right corner of the net. The goal was not just the Swope Park goal of the season but also the USL Fan’s Choice Goal of the Year.
Swope Park goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas produced a great low save to deny Tulsa Roughnecks FC marksman Juan Pablo Caffa's curling shot to the left post, preserving the Rangers' lead in what would end up as a 2-1 road victory for SPR.