Kickin’ It: An interview with Richmond Kickers’ Akira Fitzgerald

Akira Fitzgerald talks about signing with Richmond, his past professional stops, and more!

When the Richmond Kickers made the decision to move from the USL Championship to USL League One, the club knew a complete rebuild of the squad was in order. The entire 2018 roster was released from their contracts, giving head coach David Bulow a fresh start heading into his first full season as the new Richmond Kickers manager. Among the first set of signings was experienced keeper Akira Fitzgerald.

With over 100 career appearances, Fitzgerald brings a steady pair of gloves to the Richmond Kickers defense as their traverse not only a new lineup and league but brand new opponents. I chatted with Akira to discuss his decision to join Richmond, his time at North Carolina FC (formerly the Carolina Railhawks) and the Tampa Bay Rowdies, as well as his time in the ACC at Wake Forest.

What interested you the most about the opportunity to sign with the Richmond Kickers?

Fitzgerald: What interested me most was getting the chance to play for Coach Bulow and the rest of the staff. I had multiple conversations with them and hearing the way that coach wanted to play made me feel like this was going to be the best place for me.

What are your expectations for 2019, being not only a new team for you, but an entirely new league, and opponents with very little scouting reports available?

Fitzgerald: I’m focused on making the most out of every day and I expect to get better as a player and teammate throughout this entire year. I’m excited about joining a new team and a new league and it is something I’ve done before when I played in the restarted NASL. I’m excited for the new challenges and the new role I’ll play within this team. I hope to help each one of my teammates get better and help this team to achieve its full potential.

Based on preseason so far, where do you think the Richmond Kickers’ strengths currently lie?

Fitzgerald: Right now, I feel like our strength is in our togetherness. I’ve been in many different locker rooms and with many different groups of guys and I believe that we have a really close group already. We are willing to work hard every day, open to learning from the staff and do what it takes for each other. So that has been really encouraging and I believe will serve us well throughout the season.

What have been your favorite discoveries so far in Richmond: places to eat, sights, experiences?

Fitzgerald: My wife and I live in Carytown and we absolutely love the area. There are so many different places to eat on Cary Street so we haven’t ventured too far outside of Carytown yet. One of our favorite places has been Tulsi, which is Indian. Also, a small Vietnamese place called Sen Organic was great. We’ve been over to Scott’s Addition to Bingo Bar and Circuit which are really fun places to grab a drink. We also have a golden retriever who we’ve taken to a few different trails along the James River and those have been beautiful.

What are some Richmond spots that you’ve heard of and want to check out during 2019?

Fitzgerald: We want to check out some more things to do outside when the weather gets warmer. We’ve heard there’s a ton of fun concerts and outdoor festivals that go on and can’t wait to experience those. Belle Isle seems like a really cool place, so we’ll definitely be making our way over there soon.

You spent a number of years with the Carolina Railhawks, now North Carolina FC, and then two years with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. What was a noticeable difference between the two organizations?

Fitzgerald: I think the business model of the two clubs is probably the biggest difference. The majority of my time at Carolina was while they were owned by a company called Traffic, which obviously had some serious problems that we were unaware of. But for each season, the club had to operate on a shoestring budget and did everything they could to make sure the club and players could perform as best as we all could. We had some very successful seasons there with a few good US Open Cup runs to the quarterfinals. I loved my time there. They were the first club to give me my chance as a professional and gave me the platform to take the step into MLS.

Tampa was very different in that their recruitment of players was incredible because they were able to attract some top players who had played at the highest levels in both Europe and the US. They also have incredible facilities and take unbelievable care of their players by trying to provide all the small details so that the players only ever had to focus on performing on the field for the club. I had an incredible two years there where I got to learn from some amazing players, play in front of a great fan base, and represent a historic club. I’ll be forever grateful for those opportunities.

Many in the area are alumni and/or fans of ACC teams. Tell us the story of how you ended up playing college soccer for Wake Forest?

Fitzgerald: I got recruited to play at Wake Forest University after they saw me play at an invitational camp which was hosted by Adidas, called Adidas ESP. After visiting the campus and meeting the players and coaches, I fell in love with the school and program. I had an incredible 5 seasons there because I redshirted my freshman year. We went to four straight Final Fours from 2006-2009 and won the National Championship in 2007. It was where I learned the most about how to play the game properly and how to be a true player who could become a professional. I’ve kept a close eye on the program since leaving and been back multiple times to see them play.

Nathan Reynolds

Writer covering the Richmond Kickers in USL League One. Experience as a WordPress developer, editor, podcaster, and writer for European and US soccer leagues.