Sporting Club formally introduced a new professional soccer team in Kansas City on Thursday with the formation of the Swope Park Rangers, which will begin play at Swope Soccer Village in the United Soccer League (USL) for the 2016 season.
Below are remarks from Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes, Sporting KC captain Matt Besler, Swope Park Rangers General Manager Kurt Austin and Kansas City Sports Commission Executive Committee Chairman Tom Butch, who were present at Starlight Theatre on Thursday to discuss the new USL club’s impact on the growth of soccer in Kansas City.
Peter Vermes – Sporting KC Manager and Technical Director
“For me this is a special day. I say that because it is extremely important for any team to have an opportunity to be able to develop its players. The biggest thing with [Sporting Kansas City] and what we’ve done over so many years here is we’ve put a significant investment into our academy. And one of the things we’ve missed along the way is that we’ve had players who have come out of our academy and been able to advance into our senior team. But the difficulty there always is that it’s a big space between a kid at U-18 and trying to make it to the first team. [Swope Park Rangers] helps us bridge the gap between the academy and the senior team, and it’s going to give a great environment to all of these players with the competition they need.
“For me, the greatest thing is that this team will train with us on a daily basis. They will train at the same time, we’ll be able to move players back and forth between both teams, and both coaching staffs will work together to make sure that we have a good understanding on what kind of development we have going on with our players. At the same time, whenever we’re brining players back from injury, we’ll have a place that we can put them that will help get them game fit in a short period of time.
“The final piece is, I think from a competitive perspective, this will be tremendous for our players. Where that comes into play is that, in the past, MLS has had a reserve league. That reserve league never provided the opportunity for these players to get the competition that they needed on a regular basis to become the kind of players that we want — which is players who have a winning mentality. Playing in the USL, having 30 teams in that league and being able to play with competition that is going to challenge them on a regular basis is going to give us a great opportunity to add players to our first team who not only get great development, but more importantly grew up with the same kind of characteristics that we search for in our senior team.
“We are not going to announce a coach yet. We’ll be doing that in a few weeks. I know that question will probably be the center of attention, but I promise you that we’re going to have a great person taking over that position, one in which that person will have a very direct connection to the philosophy that we have on the senior team and within our academy. We’re looking forward to this person joining us here in the next few weeks or a month. We’re looking forward to starting the season next year with this group. It’s going to be a tremendous opportunity not only for kids within our academy program, but with players we try to bring up to the first team.”
Matt Besler – Sporting KC defender and captain
“This is a very exciting moment in soccer history here in Kansas City and with Sporting Club. “Development” is a word that is tossed around a lot when you talk about the USL, and I think that’s a very important part of this team and what it’s going to be like. I want to make one thing clear: [the Swope Park Rangers] are going to be extremely competitive as well. Everyone who knows how things are run at Sporting Park knows that they put an extremely good product on the field, and they’re going to try and win championships. I think that’s something that is very important to look at—the standard has been set from us at Sporting KC and at FC Kansas City in recent years. We try and bring championships back here to Kansas City and this team, the Swope Park Rangers, they’re going to be no different.
“I have a direct connection to the USL. My youngest brother, Nick, played this past season for Timbers II up in Portland. He benefited a great deal from having that opportunity. He got drafted by the first team in Portland, and for a number of different reasons he hasn’t had the opportunity to play with the first team. But the great thing about having a USL team in Portland on-site is that he is able to show up to the first team’s locker room, interact with his teammates, and he’s able to walk across the street and get thre training and the games in that he needs. If there wasn’t a Portland II team in Portland, he would have to get loaned to a different city, and there are a lot of challenges that go along with that. You’re looking at a case with my brother where he currently has 23 games played as a professional. If there wasn’t a team in Portland, I don’t know if we’d be saying that. So it’s extremely beneficial that we finally do have a USL team in Kansas City where players outside the first team can get that experience and know what it’s like to be a professional.
“The other perspective that I’d like to touch on is that it’s not just the first team players going down to the USL. It’s the academy players going up to the USL and getting that experience. When I was first drafted, my very first practice was the very first time I’ve been in a professional environment before. I didn’t know what was going on. I was a deer in the headlights because I had no idea what a professional practice was like, I had no idea what a professional team was like or what the coaches were like. With this USL team, we’re going to be able to have academy players get that experience. Hopefully when they do become professionals, it’s not going to be their first time — they will have already experienced what a professional environment is like and what it’s like to step out onto the field. That’s something our academy is lucky to have.”
Kurt Austin – Swope Park Rangers General Manager
“The Swope Park Rangers was a name for the Kansas City Wizards Reserves in Major League Soccer’s reserve league. It was first coined by one of our staff members on the sales team, and it was quickly adopted by the fan base and has taken hold in the years since. In an announcement like this, there might be some anxiousness over how the fans will receive the name, but we have no doubt based on the reaction ever since it was first coined back in 2008 — and even in recent years when this announcement was rumored — that the Swope Park Rangers are a team Kansas City fans can identify with and will soon embrace when they take the field beginning in 2016.
“It also makes a little bit of history. As far as I can tell in my research, this is the first professional sports team in America named after a municipal park. That’s a point of extreme pride for myself and for all of us at Sporting Kansas City who take so much pride in having local owners—one of the only locally owned professional sports teams here in Kansas City that really makes a point of emphasis to give back to the community, to work with local partners and local businesses, and to sign local players onto Sporting Kansas City’s first team.”
Tom Butch – KC Sports Commission Executive Committee Chairman
“The really amazing thing that this continues is the evolution of soccer in Kansas City. Kansas City is almost inarguably the capital and the epicenter of soccer in the United States. That goes to the amazing work that Sporting KC has done to create that environment.
“You may know that the Sports Commission was successful in bringing 14 NCAA championships to Kansas City over the next few years. That was rendered possible by the fact that we have a world-class soccer environment and multiple facilities. In December we’ll host the Division II and III championships here at Swope Park. And the real feather in the cap is the Division I Men’s Championship at Sporting Park in December. If you think back to the World Cup, both men’s and women’s, where were the cameras perched in the United States? New York, Chicago, and Kansas City down at Power and Light. This is a great testimony to the work Sporting KC has done and continues to make in making Kansas City a center of sports and a center of soccer specifically.”