Rangers F.C. never far from Miller’s heart

Rangers’ Kenny Miller training at the MUSC Health Stadium on Daniel Island.

The match was maybe 10 minutes old when Kenny Miller heard an accent on the field that took him by surprise.

It was late February 2013 and Miller was in his first full season with Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps. The Canadian-based Whitecaps had traveled 3,000 miles east to take part in the Charleston Battery’s preseason tournament — Carolina Challenge Cup.

The Whitecaps were facing the host team when one of the Battery players started to shout instructions to a teammate.

The accent was a familiar one to the Scottish-born Miller.

“It sounded like home,” Miller said with a chuckle. “I didn’t expect to hear that accent in Charleston, South Carolina, 4,000 miles away from Scotland. It shows you what a small world we live in.”

Miller hadn’t bothered to check the Battery’s roster before the match and was surprised to learn later that Charleston midfielder Nicki Paterson had grown up in Motherwell, Scotland, just an hour’s drive south from his hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland.

As the game went on Miller made a point to introduce himself to Paterson.

“Shook his hand, said hello, having two Scotsmen on the same pitch that far from home was fun,” Miller said.

Now, three years later, Miller finds himself back in the Lowcountry, but this time playing for Rangers F.C. in Wednesday night’s exhibition match against the Charleston Battery. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at MUSC Health Stadium.

Unfortunately for Miller, Paterson, who played three seasons for the Battery, has moved on to the Indy Eleven, of the North American Soccer League.

A lot has happened to Miller in the past three years. After spending more than two seasons with the Whitecaps, Miller signed with the Rangers for a third time in 2014.

“I loved my time in Vancouver, it was a great two years for me,” Miller said. “But the opportunity to come back home and play for the Rangers, a club I love, was just too great.”

Miller, 36, is one of the veterans on the Rangers’ roster and wasn’t sure he’d ever return to his homeland or even the Scottish Premier League after signing with Vancouver in 2012.

The lure of returning to Scotland and the Rangers was just too strong for Miller. The club had been in financial ruin — filing for bankruptcy in 2012 — and fell to Scotland’s third division, but Miller’s loyalty to the club, a team he had been a fan since a boy, never wavered.

When Miller returned to the Rangers in 2014, his goal was to help the club return to the SPL. The Rangers have one of the biggest followings in Europe and routinely play in front of sellout crowds at Ibrox Stadium, a facility that holds nearly 51,000.

“It’s where the Rangers belong, it’s where they should be,” Miller said.

A year ago, the Rangers easily romped through the Scottish Championship League going 25-5-6 during the regular season and earning a promotion back to the SPL a league that they’ve won a record 54 times.

“Ultimately that was the goal, to get the Rangers back to the top flight,” Miller said. “We’re back there this year and there’s no reason to think that we cannot compete for another title. Those are the demands and expectations for this club. The fans demand it. The staff and players demand it as well.”

The Rangers have spent the last 10 days training in the Lowcountry’s heat and humidity. Miller thinks it’ll only make them stronger when they return to Scotland.

“There’s a reason we came to Charleston and that was to work hard and it hasn’t been easy in this heat,” Miller said with a smile. “We don’t see heat like this back home, but this manager knows what he’s doing. There’s a reason we’re here and I think it’ll help us when we get back home.”

Former United States national team defender Oguchi Onyewu is in the Lowcountry on a tryout with the Rangers.

Onyewu, who played collegiately at Clemson, has been with the club since they landed on Daniel Island on June 27. Onyewu, 34, played at Clemson from 2000-01. One of his Tigers teammates was former Battery midfielder Ian Fuller.