Richmond Kicker's City Stadium (Credit: Nathan Reynolds)

Richmond Kickers: 3 positives from 2019 (so far) & 3 things to look forward to

It’s been a tough first half of 2019 for the Richmond Kickers, but there are still positives for the club during their first year in USL League One.

2019 brought the start of the new chapter for the Richmond Kickers organization. New owners and the formation of USL League One. With so many unknowns both within Richmond’s squad and across the league, everyone was justified in feeling optimistic and ready to make bold predictions. For a few weeks early in the season, it looked as though Richmond would have a lockdown defense while the possession style offense got into its groove.

However, things have not gone according to plan since then. The Kickers currently sit 9th in the league table, ahead of Orlando just on goal difference. With only three wins on the season and a negative eight goal difference, the summer break was needed. But while frustration on the field and in the stands is understandable, there are still positives around the club.

1) New Owners

After two difficult years in the USL Championship, Richmond needed a new start—and a path forward for the organization. Enter 22 Holdings, LLC, separation from the youth system, and on the back of the $20 million pledge to renovate City Stadium in the years ahead. The former Davidson players are led by new club President Matt Spear.

Since that announcement, we’ve seen and heard the right things. A focus on the community. The early stages of stadium projects. Statements centered around listening to the fans and community partners towards building a club playing attractive soccer. From Coach David Bulow up, many may be new to their roles or at least the role at Richmond, but everyone comes with soccer experience and a noticeable desire to improve.

2) Stadium Renovations

City Stadium is historic, in a great location, and the club has a 40-year lease, but everyone knew it was in need of a lot of love. The pitch itself is amazing—everything around that requires modernization and long term planning. Earlier this year I spoke with Scott McGuire, the man in charge of the stadium and this large project for the past few years.

A number of various improvements were completed before the start of the season, and one should expect that to be a reoccurring event each offseason. It’s not going to happen by next year—or perhaps even five—but the funds are committed and planning is on-going. Eventually, the Kickers will have a proper home and surrounding facilities to match the club’s historical spot in US Soccer.

3) Supporters & New Content

Richmond may be 9th in the standings, but they aren’t lacking in the stands or online.

– The Kickers currently rank 2nd in USL League One attendance, with nearly 3,500 per match.

– The supporters’ group, River City Red Army, is as loud and active as ever.

RiverCity93 brought the club’s first (as far as I can tell) supporter podcast.

– The club launched an official podcast with the Total Soccer Show team to analyze the key moments during each match.

– The Beautiful Game Network not only houses my content but other USL League One general coverage and the League 1 Fun podcast.

Three things to look forward to in the second half of 2019

Hopefully, Richmond returns to the pitch Saturday evening with an upset over league-leaders North Texas SC. That launches a second half of the season turnaround and playoff position at a minimum. While that remains to be seen, there are still things for fans to look forward to beyond just the next 15 matches.

1) Summer Additions?

The Kickers travel to Lionsbridge FC for a friendly Tuesday evening and are holding open tryouts July 19th-21st. With USL League Two’s season coming to an end, perhaps the club can sign Lionsbridge stand out players. Thibaut Jacquel led the USL2 club in goals with seven from 12 matches, ninth best in the league. Or the duo of John Scearce and Luke Brown who each netted four assists. 

And don’t sleep on the open tryouts and resulting player trials, as the club mentioned in its press release long-time Richmond Kicker Braeden Troyer was discovered that way. As were Clyde Simms, who saw MLS and USMNT matches, Ronnie Pascale, a USL Goalkeeper of the Year, and Robert Ssejjemba, the 2006 league MVP.

2) Building for 2020

Regardless of how 2019 goes, everything must be a lesson learned. 2019 was David Bulow’s first full year in charge of a professional club. 2019 was the first year at a professional club for a lot of the front office. The majority of the players are new to Richmond, many on their first professional contract. Just like in practice and in life, the second time around is much easier. Results aren’t guaranteed, but a lot of the uncertainty is gone, there is more of a foundation to build on, and those experience help make better decisions going forward.

How the team scouts, builds the roster, handles contracts, manages team depth and tactics will all improve from this inaugural journey—not only in USL League One, but for so many at and around the organization.

3) Off-season announcements

Just like last winter, expect more announcements across the board this offseason.

– USL League One has already announced that Omaha, Penn FC, and the Rochester Rhinos are joining. Growing the league to 13 clubs. Expect at least three more new names by the time the 2020 season kicks off.

– The next round of stadium renovations should kick off and perhaps fans will begin to hear details of the long term plans for the East Stands.

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