Richmond Kickers: Interview with Matt Spear on the League One return

It’s been nearly nine months since the Richmond Kickers played in City Stadium. Now USL League One is aiming for a July start to the 2020 season.

I reached out to Richmond Kickers‘ President Matt Spear to check in on how the club is preparing for the hopeful upcoming campaign.

1) Is USL League One still on track to begin the 2020 season in July? And does the club have any concerns at this point about the ability to begin at that time?

Matt Spear: Kudos to the League, club owners, and all involved for placing a stake in the ground with the intention to have a 2020 season with a provisional start date of July 18. There has been a ton of work to establish a return to play protocols and now the emphasis is establishing a schedule. If all goes forward, USL would be the first American pro soccer league back in action in home venues.

2) How have the planned stadium upgrades for 2020 been impacted or progressed during this period?

Matt Spear: Our $1.5 million investment into historic City Stadium is a game changer to enhance the experience for all involved. We can’t wait for not just our soccer fans but for all of RVA because we continue to expand our events beyond pro soccer.

3) Is there a timeline when we might discover how the League One schedule will look for the Richmond Kickers?

Matt Spear: The League office is working feverishly to construct the schedule with constant back and forth updates with the clubs and their local Covid-19 situations. Some will be able to host matches more quickly than others.

[Note: The USL Championship schedule was released about a week after the league’s restart date was announced. If that pattern holds we could see the USL League One schedule this week.]

4) Where do things stand right now in regards to capacity for City Stadium when/if matches resume, from the city, the league, and how the club would like to handle this unique situation?

Matt Spear: The Governor of Virginia steers the regulations for gatherings. If and when we advance to Phase #3, we believe we would be able to host up to 1,000 people. Of course, this could change both up or down.

5) What plans has the club put into place, or plan to, in order to get fans back into the stadium?

Matt Spear: We have been working on our return to stadium plans, alterations, and procedures for many weeks. Safety is paramount and we want our fans and visitors to be aware and confident. We will share our new stadium policies when the schedule is announced.

6) Are the Richmond Kickers open to running a version of the 2020 season even if fans are not allowed in, or if the situation changes and crowds are further restricted but the league can continue to play?

Matt Spear: At this point, we remain focused on returning to play and realize that the situation will be floating. Of course, having fans at the match would be the best-case scenario for our season ticket holders, match environment, and our sponsors.

7) If the club is allowed to have fans in attendance, albeit in a limited capacity, is there an initial plan to determine how to allocate those seats? First-come-first serve basis after season ticket holders?

Note: The club declined to comment on these questions at this time, but expect an announcement soon after the schedule is released. 

8) How has the team managed training, both on an individual basis and collective as restrictions have been lifted, considering a new head coach this year and potential new tactics?

Matt Spear: I tip my hat to Sporting Director and Head Coach Darren Sawatzky plus the rest of our technical staff including Athletic Trainer Rodrigo Perez. This is an unprecedented challenge but as a former coach myself, I am incredibly impressed and inspired by our staff’s resolve, flexibility, and ambition. They have maximized this opportunity for the players’ growth, mental health, and team cohesion.

Richmond Kickers fans are eager to see the team back in action and the start of a new era under Coach Sawatzky. Whether fans are in attendance at City Stadium or watching from home on ESPN+ (either by choice or requirement) and how the league handles travel, remains to be seen, but hopefully, some semblance of a season can be completed after this long delay.

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.