Photo courtesy Nick Tre. Smith / Swope Park Rangers
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Swope Park Rangers announced on Monday the club had named Nikola Popovic as the side’s new Head Coach. Popovic joined the Rangers prior to the team’s inaugural season in 2016, serving as an assistant coach in SPR’s inspirational run to the 2016 USL Cup Final having previously spent time as an assistant coach with Benfica B.
“I’m extremely thankful to the owners, Peter Vermes and Kerry Zavagnin for this opportunity,” Popovic said. “It’s a great honor to be selected as head coach for the Swope Park Rangers, and I’m very proud to be a part of this culture and organization. We had an excellent first season in 2016 and I’m looking forward to continuing our work to develop players for Sporting Kansas City.”
“As a club, one of our objectives is to be able to promote from within because we want people that understand our culture and model of play,” Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes said. “We are very excited to be able to promote Nikola from his assistant coach role and think he will bring excellent qualities to the head coach position. Even though last year was the first year of the Swope Park Rangers, it was very successful in a lot of respects. We look forward to working more closely with Nikola to continue to integrate the Rangers into the Sporting KC system.”
Popovic, 43, succeeds Marc Dos Santos who joined the San Francisco Deltas at the conclusion of the 2016 USL season. Popovic played an important role in the Rangers winning the USL Western Conference and becoming just the second expansion team in league history to take part in a USL Cup Final.
Popovic is a dual citizen of Serbia and Portugal who was born in Belgrade and raised in Lisbon. He is fluent in five languages and holds a UEFA Pro coaching license – the highest available through UEFA.
He began his coaching career in Portugal with CD Olivais e Moscavide in the Segunda Division, winning the title in the 2005-06 season and earning promotion to the Segunda Liga. After departing CD Olivais e Moscavide at the conclusion of the 2006-07 season, Popovic became an assistant at FC Vihren Sandanski in the Bulgarian A Football Group but returned to Portugal later in 2007 with Segunda Liga side Varzim SC, winning the Liga Intercalar.
Popovic shifted to an assistant coach position with the Cape Verde National Team in 2010, before joining Spanish Segunda Division B side AD Ceuta. While in Spain, he helped guide AD Ceuta to the Copa Del Rey Round of 32 – the club’s best showing in the tournament. Later that same season, Popovic linked up with Bulgarian side Chernomorets Burgas in the Bulgarian A Football Group, helping the side to a quarterfinal appearance in the Bulgarian Cup.
Popovic’s next stop was with Al Dahfra in the United Arab Emirates for the 2011-12 season, where he was an assistant to Baltemar Brito – Jose Mourinho’s former assistant coach – winning the Vice President Cup. Popovic earned his first head-coaching job the following season, taking charge of Sertanense FC in the Portugeuse Second Division. Popovic then joined Qatar’s Aspire Academy in 2014, before returning to Portugal and Benfica B in 2015.