Dylan Hooper, a 15-year-old soccer player from Shawnee, has joined the Swope Park Rangers, Sporting KC’s USL Championship team, becoming the youngest player on the Rangers roster. He signed on alongside three other Sporting KC Academy players in early April.
While still an amateur player, Hooper is now a member of a professional team in a professional league. He had spent a year and a half in the academy before being recruited.
“It’s really cool to join here because there’s just a lot of opportunities to become a professional, which is my dream and goal,” he said.
Hooper is now eligible to play for both the Rangers in their league, the USL Championship, and the Sporting Kansas City Academy Under-17 team, which plays in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
Hooper is the second Shawnee native in recent months to join Sporting KC on the professional level; Sporting KC signed Tyler Freeman last fall to play major league soccer.
Within his first couple of weeks on the team, Hooper has already played with the Rangers during their pre-season. Hooper will finish out the season on the U-17 team while he plays with the Rangers.
Because he is an unpaid Rangers player and holds a contract with the academy, he maintains his amateur status and eligibility to play in college after he graduates high school.
‘Playing against guys…twice his age’
At 6 feet and 175 pounds, Hooper is a freshman at Mill Valley High School. Before joining Sporting KC Academy, he played for the club soccer team KC Fusion.
“He’s 15 years old, and he’s playing in preseason and training with guys that are five, six, seven, eight years older than him,” said Kurt Austin, communications director for Sporting KC. “If he gets into games with the Rangers, he’ll be playing against guys that are twice his age, potentially.”
Hooper plays center back for Sporting KC Academy; he first joined the academy in October 2017, when he was 14. He started in all 15 games he’s played as a U-17 player and, as a defender, he scored one goal. Last year in U-15, he started 22 of the 24 games he played.
“The idea of having these six different youth development teams is to basically capture the top players in the Kansas City and Midwest region, to bring them into an elite environment in terms of training and the coaches that they get, players that they’re playing with,” Austin said. “The idea is — from a player development perspective — it puts them in the best situation to be able to maximize their talent and grow as a player.”
Passing is his favorite part of the game; fortunately, his position on defense often places him in team-oriented play. “Winning’s fun,” he added.
Hooper’s place on the Rangers team puts him on a path to play major league soccer with Sporting KC in the future, if he so chooses. In fact, Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes has said he’d love to see the day when the majority of the Sporting KC players are athletes who have come up through the academy: Players who have learned the model of Sporting KC play as well as team culture.
But Hooper, as a high school freshman, is still considering his post-graduation options.
“I’m kinda just keeping my doors open and just seeing where the best path will be,” he said.