The purpose of the Swope Park Rangers was meticulously presented during a launch party last October. The plan called for the Rangers to serve as a development team for Sporting Kansas City, a way to bridge the gap between youth academy clubs and the MLS franchise.
But as the Rangers met for their inaugural training camp in February in Tucson, Ariz., players and coaches laid out a grander vision.
“From the get-go, our goal has been to stand out as a group — to win games ourselves,” Swope Park defender Oumar Ballo said. “We really put an emphasis on making the playoffs.”
Head coach Marc Dos Santos took the objective to the extreme, and before long, he was configuring exactly how many points the Rangers needed to tally each month in order to qualify for the United Soccer League postseason.
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In their first season, the Rangers quickly fell behind the pace. On June 18, their record stood at 4-7-2.
“We added those missed points (to the next month),” Dos Santos said. “We were always very accountable. The only way you can come to work every day in such a long season is to establish a goal.”
Slowly, but surely, the Rangers inched closer to their target. And then they used a late-season hot streak to surpass it.
At 7:30 p.m. Friday, the Rangers will play host to LA Galaxy II at Swope Soccer Village in a Western Conference quarterfinal playoff match. The Rangers secured the No. 4 seed in the West. The top eight teams in each conference qualified for the postseason, forming a one-game, single-elimination tournament.
“The first thing is that the mentality cannot change (now),” said Dos Santos, who will depart the club after the season to take the same job with another expansion team, the San Francisco Deltas. “We can’t forget what gave us success. We won six of our last seven games, so we’re not going to change things we’re doing just because we have a playoff game.”
The recent success stems largely from a stout defense that allowed one goal over its last four regular season matches. The Rangers, 14-10-6, held 12 of their final 13 opponents to one goal or fewer, an average of 0.77 per game. By contrast, in their initial 13 matches, they allowed 1.77 goals per game.
The explanation is fairly simple.
“Starting off, we were a bunch of new guys who had played all over the place. To bring that together in the beginning of the season, it’s not going to jell immediately,” Ballo said. “As a team, our chemistry has grown throughout the season — from guys who didn’t know each other to guys who will communicate with each other and cover for each other. That’s been the big difference.”