Editor’s note: Four Watchdog reporters covered last weekend’s Baltimore Kings debut. Here are there reports from the field.
By Billy Owens
The Baltimore Watchdog
Josh Danza retired from playing soccer professionally in part because he sustained five concussions over several years of competition.
“I tried not to head the ball at all today and ended up scoring a goal off of it,” said Danza, the club’s founder and chairman.
For Danza, the match was less about scoring goals and more about achieving them. Along with the help of his friends and colleagues, he spent nearly two years building up the club, finding a home field, recruiting players and marketing the professional team. Saturday was both the culmination of his leg work and the beginning of a new chapter of soccer in Baltimore. An estimated 1,500 spectators attended the game.
“Seeing the support here was unreal,” Danza said. “It was great to see people from all over Maryland come together for this game.”
It had been five years since Danza played in a meaningful soccer game in Towson. He was one of the many heartbroken former Towson University men’s soccer players who witnessed the program’s demise. Danza, who played for Stevenson University’s Division III team for three years, transferred to Towson a year before the men’s soccer program was cut, allowing him to play out his final year of NCAA eligibility for the Division I program.
The game, held at Concordia Prep in Towson, was a homecoming for many former Towson athletes turned Kings players. Five members of the team had been on the 2012 Tigers men’s soccer team that was disbanded a year later by the university. Danza said he was glad that those players could come back to Towson to compete at a high level.
“To have an experience where they can return to Towson and play on a big stage, that’s something that’s definitely owed to them after what they went through,” Danza said.
The Kings’ Gavin Boyle had a chance to play Division I soccer — but not at Towson. He transferred to Towson this fall after spending four semesters at Xavier University (where he redshirted) and Howard University (where he played). He still had three years of NCAA eligibility left, but he chose instead to sign a one-game contract with the Kings. He said Saturday’s game validated his decision.
“In NCAA, you don’t really get this culture,” Boyer said in a postgame interview (video below). “You don’t really get all these people to come out, and to have the club be known like this — in college, it’s always going to be there — it’s exciting to have a new club to be the next big thing, and to have all these people support you and to grow from there.”
Washington’s Daniel Baumgartner, who is from California and played college soccer at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo, said he enjoyed his professional soccer experience on the East Coast.
“Being on the field and being a player, looking at the stands [and] seeing all the people that come out and support what you’re doing — it’s just second to none,” Baumgartner said.
Both teams had players from varying backgrounds: Out-of-contract pros, recreational club players, former college players, and everything in between were represented on the field.
The players aren’t the only beneficiaries, however. The club also aims to build a strong relationship with the local community, through both its non-professional women’s, under-23, futsal and youth teams as well as the composition of its pro team.
“We try to get everyone involved,” said Baltimore’s Jade Mesias, who scored the first goal of the game. “Each player is local; we [don’t] necessarily [have] too many foreign entities, so keeping it local is always good.”
Danza hopes to further connect with the local soccer community by potentially inviting players from the Baltimore Blast indoor team to play games for the Kings.
“Being able to maybe further build relationships with different teams in the community as well, it’s what we’re really looking to do,” Danza said.
By Nick Rynes
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
One night only. Two years in the making. Saturday’s DMV Cup was a culmination of business meetings, marketing efforts, player recruitment and late-night practices for Josh Danza and his Baltimore Kings teammates.
In what Danza had billed as an MMA-type fight given the long build-up to the game and the months that will follow without another contest, the Baltimore Kings, a new independent, non-league professional soccer team, beat the Washington Fire 4-0.
After returning to Baltimore following his professional soccer career, Danza founded the Kings in late 2015 in order to “put players on a stage where they can succeed and then maybe move on to other playing opportunities that are full time.”
Saturday’s stage was Concordia Prep in Towson. Elementary school-age kids in soccer jerseys filled the stands. Families filled the grassy hill. Adults with rosters in hand took notes on the game. An estimated 1,500 fans saw the first-ever Kings game – a dominating performance on a day when fans celebrated Baltimore soccer.
“All around it was a great day,” Danza said after the game.
Danza placed a header in the net late in the second half. Jade Mesias (pictured in the video below) and David Neuberth scored the Kings’ other three goals.
The game featured a range of former college soccer players, former professionals and current professionals who are out of contract.
“The cool thing is a lot of guys played with each other or against each other growing up,” Danza said. “There are so many local guys. Even if they don’t know them on a personal level they’ve seen them played and know what kind of player they are.”
Washington Fire player Daniel Baumgartner, on loan from the Baltimore Kings, couldn’t have been more excited to finally be on the field for this event.
“It made my heart pump,” Baumgartner said. “I just got so much adrenaline pumping and I just had to keep a cool head.”
The impressive performance by the Kings is a step in the right direction for the club. Now it’s time for players to plot their next move.
“We don’t want players to be here for a long, extended period of time,” Danza said. “We want to help move them on to the next level, and putting them in a showcase game like this…really goes a long way.”
Kings player Gavin Boyer hopes the team’s performance attracts more competition in the future.
“I think it sends a message to any teams that are currently out there and want to make competition,” Boyer said. “This team is out to play.”
The next time the Kings professional team will see action will likely be early 2018. The program as a whole, however, will continue to be a big player in the local soccer community. The Kings have a U-23 team, a women’s team and a semi-pro futsal team. Investors and sponsors have asked about the pro team for a long time after the success of other teams.
“Now to be able to have an actual product, show [sponsors] video from the game and pictures, [and] show that we are actually able to draw a crowd as well,” Danza said. “Maybe that will make our club a little more marketable and help us kind of take things to the next level.”
By Muhammad Waheed
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
In the week leading up to the first-ever game for the Baltimore Kings, a new professional, non-league team, founder and chairman Josh Danza had been hopeful that his outreach in Baltimore — going to community events, marketing on social media, passing out tickets at schools — would pay off.
On Saturday, as the Kings beat the Washington Fire 4-0 at Concordia Prep in front of an estimated 1,500 people, Danza said he felt the energy of the crowd.
“Looking over at the stands and seeing what we have and people from all different local clubs working together here in the Baltimore soccer community, even though lot of times people tried to work against each other, it seemed like everyone was here tonight in one big event that they really wanted to prove that we’re here to stay and this is an opportunity that we’re presenting to other local soccer players on the way up,” Danza said. “It was great to see people from all over Maryland come together for this game. For the players, the fans, to the little kids that came here to watch, all around it was a great day.”
It was the kind of day Danza had hoped for nearly two years ago when he announced the formation of the Kings, a team that is attempting to provide an opportunity for players who want high-level competition and a chance to be seen by other professional teams.
Danza stopped playing professionally several years ago after he suffered a succession of concussions.
“I retired from playing at a very high level not too many years ago,” Danza said. “I don’t want to be the front-and-center-of-the-show kind of guy, but at the same time I want to make sure that I’m offering some sort of positive thing to the community as well so being able to step out here with some of the younger guys and just help them out in any way possible is what this is really all about.”
Danza wasn’t just a figurehead at Saturday’s game. He scored a goal in the 76th minute of the game to put the Kings up 3-0.
“It feels good,” Danza said. “It was a good cross. I crashed the box and it’s funny cause one of the reasons why I had to retire was due to my concussions and then I tried to not head the ball at all today and ended up scoring a goal off of it so it was a great ball in and all I had to really do was put some power behind it and beat the goalie, but it felt really good.”
Daniel Baumgartner, a Fire player on loan from the Kings, said he enjoyed the atmosphere.
“It is second to none to be honest,” Baumgartner said. “Just all the hard work that’s been put in for the past two years just to get this put on is just simply amazing.”
Danza hopes the community feeling that was established by the Kings in their first contest will continue — but it will have to wait for awhile. The next game likely won’t be until early 2018.
By Greg Paris
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Attacking midfielder Jade Mesias was trying to make a play on the ball when a Washington Fire defender pulled him down from behind, giving the Baltimore Kings their first-ever penalty kick. Fans stood up and then turned quiet as Mesias approached the ball to take the penalty kick.
“I just focused on getting the back of the net,” said Mesias, a New Zealand native who lives in Maryland.
Mesias buried his 34th-minute free kick to score the first goal in Baltimore Kings club history. The Kings scored three second-half goals on their way to a 4-0 win over the Washington Fire in the first-ever DMV Cup Saturday at Concordia Prep. The Kings controlled possession for the majority of the game and played good defense as the Washington Fire couldn’t get anything going on offense. Jake Boyle posted a shutout for the Kings and David Neuberth added two goals in the second half.
An estimated 1,500 spectators saw the game, which featured a number of former Towson University soccer players and professional athletes from across the country.
“This is a really great atmosphere,” said Noah Shade, a spectator and self-proclaimed No. 1 Kings fan. “I had a huge adrenaline rush after the first goal, and I hope for more in the second half.”
Shade was at the game in support of his friends Mesias and E.J. Jackson. Shade played with Mesias on a different soccer club, and Jackson played for CCBC Essex and is closely associated with the team, which Shade plays on.
The Kings had been preparing for this game for nearly two years. Josh Danza, a former TU men’s soccer player and professional player, founded the club in 2015. The Kings give opportunities to all types of players, whether their career is winding down or they are trying to get noticed by other professional squads.
“It has been a lot of work over the past two years,” Danza said. “We had people come from all over Maryland and to finally have it finished and get the result we wanted feels good.”
Danza scored one of the Kings’ four goals.
“I’m retired from playing,” he said. “I’m a full-time math teacher. It’s fun for the guys to come out and watch me play. My daughter is here watching. I got to score in front of her.”
Gavin Boyer, a student at Towson University who plays for the Kings, had a chance to play in front of a crowd that’s much larger than he was used to during college games at Xavier and Howard, where he attended school before transferring to Towson this fall. He decided not to pursue other varsity soccer opportunities and instead play in professional contests.
“I can play on my own time and without NCAA eligibility issues,” Boyer said. “You don’t get this kind of culture at a college game, to have a new club and be the next big thing is exciting.”
Boyer and his parents thought he had scored in the 87th minute, but the goal was called back due to offsides.
The Kings are not scheduled to play again until 2018, when they will look to build on their on-field success and interest among fans.
“The support from the community makes you think this is a real thing,” Danza said. “The goal is to make it more marketable and push it forward for investors and sponsors.”
The Kings hope the recent move of the Baltimore Blast to SECU Arena in Towson will help boost the fortunes of professional soccer in the area. The Kings want to continue playing during the Blast’s offseason. And they will continue to market themselves to soccer fans throughout the region.
“We put our name out as much as we can,” Danza said.