Richmond Kickers: The Broken Puzzle

The Richmond Kickers managed more offense than the previous week and yet walked away with a 2-0 loss at home to the Chattanooga Red Wolves.

Heading back from Tucson with a road point, the mood was that the defense was back on track and half the team was set. Beautiful weather and a return to City Stadium against a team beaten earlier in the season. The Richmond Kickers had to feel positive about their chances of a restart to their season.

Instead, it was another frustrating night for Coach David Bulow, his Kickers, and the Richmond faithful. The starting XI was nearly the ideal one. And on paper, a lot of areas improved from the two weeks before. So what exactly went wrong and where does the team go from here?

Richmond Kickers (3-5-3)

1) Metric win. Reality loss.

Everything but the scoreboard. Richmond won the possession game (57%). Had more successful duels (58%). More passes, better passing accuracy (83%), more crosses, and more shots than Chattanooga. On the stat sheet, the attack improved from the match against Tucson. You could see the extra intent early on as Richmond logged more shots (and on target) in the first half as the entire previous week. Even though the ball can often move slower and/or backwards more than some fans might like at times, Richmond pushed forward and faster during more moments tonight than we are used to seeing them do.

But in the end, the only stat that matters is the two goals scored by the Red Wolves. A defensive error that put the opposition attack in and a late push forward that left Akira with little help as Richmond searched for the equalizer. If not for Fitzgerald the score could have been 3 or 4 to 0.

More attack only works when you have someone who can make it count. As I said in the depth chart piece and then again last week, the forwards Bulow is using are not taking or making chances often enough for this style of play to work. In the league, Daniel Jackson has played in 11 games and has registered 8 shots that entire time. Dennis Chin – 10 matches and just 6 shots. Maxi Rodriguez, the defensive midfielder has five shots.

It’s a curious question as to exactly what the status is on Charles Boateng, or what he is, or isn’t, doing to during Richmond’s practices to not even make the 18 the past two weeks. Besides putting Gallardo up top, Boateng is the next obvious solution. He’s only had two starts so far this year in the league, not enough time to judge his viability in this offense.

2) Despite the results, the crowd continues to support

Despite a tough outing against North Texas two weeks ago, losing 3-0, the supporters remain one of the bright spots of the first half of the season. Saturday against the Red Wolves Richmond saw 4,233 hits the stands and the concourse (where I’d estimate at least 30-40% spend the match watching and gathering from the elevated position). That brings the Kickers average attendance to 3,474 on the season.

While that is down (at the moment) from last year’s average of 4,066, Richmond is one of the best draws not only in League One but all of the USL system. The club ranks second in League One attendance (Forward Madison is averaging over 4k from their first three home matches), and ahead of 15 USL Championship clubs. (Note: If you aren’t already, follow Mike Pendleton for his great summaries and infographics on soccer attendance).

Even after two rough years in the USL Championship, fans continue to show that Richmond is a well-supported club. Once the results consistently match the crowds, the Kickers could easily see numbers average in the 5,000 range.

3) Redesign or retry?

There are a lot of small things you could analyze, but at this point in the season it probably boils down to one question. Can Coach Bulow remain firm with his style of play and find a way to get Richmond into the playoffs? Or will he need to adjust to a new system that best fits the players he has right now? We see what he wants to do, and we know it works—just look at Manchester City. But Pep Guardiola has the ability to buy the exact players he needs to implement the system, and the time needed for everything to begin to click. (Not that the ‘down’ early years of learning his system and finishing 4th and then 3rd in the Premier League, is rough by anyone’s stretch of the imagination.)

Bulow doesn’t have those luxuries. Richmond is limited in their player pool, and basically locked in once the season starts. The Kickers have individual players which could thrive in the system and others that feel like they are being forced into it. So is it better to continue teaching and practicing this style of play, if the front office and Coach Bulow are committed to it for the next few years? Or is a rethink in order to find not only a formation but a style of play, that suits the players that are here this year and can best produce results in 2019?

Richmond has two road matches ahead—away to Tormenta and Chattanooga—before returning home to face North Texas once again. By that point, the current system needs to have found the ability to score goals or a rework is in order to erase the memories of North Texas’ last visit to Virginia.

Up Next: South Georgia Tormenta FC (6-1-4)

Last Time Out: 2-0 win against Orlando City B.

Heading into next weekend’s match in Georgia, Tormenta sits second in the USL League One table with 22 points. That’s 10 more than the Richmond Kickers, and having played one fewer match. The hosts haven’t lost yet at home, winning four times and drawing once. Meanwhile, Richmond has picked up four points from a potential 15 on the road so far. Form clearly indicates that the Kickers arrive at Erk Russell Park as the clear underdogs.

Tormenta have spread around the goals and assists so far this year, placing multiple players in the top 20 or 30 across the league in each category. William Conner Antley and Alex Morrell sit first and second for the team in goals and assists, while Charlie Dennis has created the most chances (26), which is best in USL League One. On the defensive side of things, Pablo Jara is the only keeper with more clean sheets than Akira Fitzgerald, having kept the ball out the net for Tormenta an impressive seven times from 11 matches.

Who, When & How

Richmond Kickers vs. South Georgia Tormenta FC

Tomorrow, 6/22, at 8:00 PM Eastern Time

Watch on ESPN+

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.