Richmond Kickers: 10 thoughts following the Forward Madison loss

A disappointing result at a horrible time leaves the Richmond Kickers barely hanging on to 2019 USL League One Playoff hopes.

1) Heritage Night – A great idea and for a great cause. The Richmond Kickers wore special edition kits during warm-ups that were auctioned off for three great local groups. The kits were so well received in the build-up to the match, next year the club could probably sell replica versions and t-shirts at the merchandise stands. Hopefully, it was the first of what becomes an annual tradition at City Stadium.

2) Supporters Regardless of the action on the pitch, Saturday demonstrated that the River City Red Army remains a tremendous supporters group and an example for the rest of the league. One group that has quickly established themselves is The Flock. In year one, they’ve built a presence in the stands and online. A group of 20~ Forward Madison supporters traveled down from Wisconsin to visit Richmond, tailgate with the Red Army and boost the atmosphere in City Stadium. While the result of the match wasn’t ideal for Richmond fans, they can appreciate the addition Forward Madison and The Flock bring to USL League One.

3) 4,140 – With the playoffs basically on the line and great weather in Richmond, the fans turned up again. It was Richmond’s fourth-highest attended match of the season, with the club likely to finish second in league attendance this season behind Forward Madison. Numbers are down from the past two years, but that is to be expected when factoring in the two rough years Richmond had in what is now the USL Championship, dropping down a league, and dealing with a brutal summer stretch of results. But overall, fan support continues to be one of the key strengths of the organization, who currently sit 23rd out of the 45 USL clubs (Championship & League One) in average attendance. Expect the year-end average to be about where it is now, with a midweek home match against TFCII followed by the season-ending tie against Orlando City B on Saturday, October 5th.

4) Formation – Against North Texas Coach Bulow rotated his lineup and adjusted the formation to account for three matches in eight days. Back in Richmond, the Kickers reverted to the 3 CB system with Troyer in front of the backline, two wingbacks, and then two banks of two attackers in front. A 3-3-2-2 in defense and a 3-1-4-2 in attack. But the team never found the cohesion that saw them pullback in the playoff race in late July and August. The press didn’t seem as strong of a focus as it was against North Texas or during the unbeaten run. Saturday appeared more down to execution than setup.

5) Performance ≠ Stakes – It turned out to be a horrible time for a bad night. The loss to North Texas wasn’t great, but it was survivable. Saturday night was a home match, in what was expected to be a strong crowd, knowing the playoffs hang in the balance and three points were a requirement. From the start, the team appeared to lack the drive for what was on the line. Giving up the early goal was bad, for stretches of the match it seemed as though the team didn’t believe a comeback was possible.

6) Fullbacks had an off night – Given the formation, the magnitude of the match, and Richmond’s recent history using wingbacks, you would have expected Lockaby and Hughes to be pushing high and creating overload situations in the attack from the start. Below is a heatmap of Richmond’s wingbacks’ position during the first half (Kickers are attacking from left to right). Their movement forward helps give the attack width when playing with the two banks of two up top. Without the attack lacking that element Richmond’s offense seemed stifled.

7) Shots in the box – On the Total Soccer Show’s Richmond Kickers Weekly podcast, Coach Bulow talked about how he wanted to take good shots, not wild, long-range efforts. Against Forward Madison, Richmond only managed five shots inside the box. Just three of those were on target. And one coming in the 95th minute of action. For a team needing three points—and knowing they needed two goals since the 6th minute—that simply isn’t enough.

8) Substitutions – Sending Mwape on was a positive change, with Richmond chasing the match. But sending on Thomsen to replace an existing wingback seemed unnecessary. Hughes has two goals and two assists so far this year. The later decision to remove Troyer, a key figure in this seasons turnaround, and leave on three CBs, to bring on Boateng was a bit baffling. If you wanted to go defense for offense, take out Magalhaes (who already had a yellow card) for Daniel Jackson. DJ has four goals on the year. If Coach Bulow saw something that he thought Richmond could exploit with Boateng’s speed, then sub in Mwape, Boateng, and Jackson, not Thomsen. Richmond needed goals, not more defense.

9) 1.25 – That is the average points per match at home this season for the Kickers. That would place the club in 9th place in a ‘home-matches-only’ table. Compared to a 6th place position in the road-only version of the table. Regardless of how 2019 turns out, that has to be a key focus in the off-season. With the second-highest attendance and strong brand awareness, how can Richmond better take advantage of their home matches?

10) 2.4% – The current playoff odds for Richmond look bleak. A week ago following the Greenville win, the club was around 14%. At this point, Richmond need to win out and get a lot of help to reach the playoffs. The maximum points Richmond can collect with a perfect run is 12, putting them at 40 for the season. Forward Madison (36) need just 4 points from their remaining three matches, while Greenville (37) need just three points from four games. Up next is a trip to Tucson, where a loss would take the club below .5%, effectively ending the season.

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.