As one of the early signings for the Swope Park Rangers, center back Tommy Meyer has seen first-hand how the anticipation for the club’s first season has built over the past three months.
From the introduction of Marc Dos Santos as head coach, to the unveiling of a name that originated with Sporting Kansas City’s fans, to a successful preseason that saw the side go toe-to-toe with MLS opposition, the Rangers have turned heads.
“I mean, this is a situation that’s brand new to everyone, and there’s a lot of excitement even around the first-team guys,” Meyer said recently. “They’re excited to see us play, and I know there’s a lot of fans that we had out at the event the other night supporting us. KC’s a pretty cool city. The organization has done a great job bringing us in and making everyone feel welcome, so it’s going to be a good year.”
Meyer arrived with the Rangers from the LA Galaxy, one of a number of players in the squad with MLS experience. After helping the club claim MLS Cup in 2014, Meyer’s role diminished somewhat with Bruce Arena’s side a year ago, but he remained active as part of the Galaxy II, often acting as a late-game substitute for Curt Onalfo as the side made a remarkable run in the 2015 USL Playoffs.
After winning the Western Conference Championship, Los Dos came close to winning their first USL Championship, only for a late goal by the Rochester Rhinos to send the game to overtime, where Asani Samuels’ second goal of the night won it for the hosts. For Meyer, the disappointment in the locker room among the group’s young players was palpable.
“I think we knew that it was on us that we didn’t win that game,” Meyer said. “It’s always frustrating, but that happens in soccer, and you move forward to the next one and hopefully get a championship the next year.”
While the Rangers are following the footsteps of Los Dos in the USL, Meyer thinks his new situation is pretty different to the one he departed this offseason. While the Rangers have some of the club’s current and former academy standouts as part of the squad, many of the club’s senior players hadn’t much experience playing alongside one another.
With that in mind, it’s pretty impressive how quickly the squad appears to have come together. Meyer gives a lot of credit to Dos Santos, whose no-nonsense approach and clarity in training sessions have helped shape the team quickly.
“He tells you exactly what he’s thinking. He doesn’t really BS you at all, and that’s one of the best things about him because he’s going to be honest with you at all times,” Meyer said. “Whether you’re playing bad or you’re playing good, he’s going to let you know and I think that’s been good for the whole team. Everyone respects him and [Assistant Coach] Nikola [Popovic], and no one really comes to training and messes around. It’s business on the field, and everyone has a lot of respect for those guys.”
In addition, Meyer and the professional veterans in the squad are being looked to as role models for the younger players as they enter their rookie seasons.
“Marc made it clear that he wants guys leading by example on and off the field,” Meyer said, “so the younger guys, the academy guys that aren’t necessarily even with us yet that they see the way we act on the field and off the field, and hopefully they get there one day and are able to do the same.”
With the squad the club has assembled, and the excitement for the season to start, the Rangers’ goal is now to make an impact in the USL’s Western Conference in their inaugural season.
“The first goal we have is to make the playoffs, so once you get there, you set the next goal, and you want win the championship once you get there,” Meyer said. “The first goal is obviously to take it game by game and put yourself in a position to make those top eight teams that make the playoffs, and if possible be at the top of that list.
“I think we have a good group of guys this year to where I think we’re going to be able to do that.”