An interview with Richmond United’s Director to discuss the program, the relationship with the Richmond Kickers, and recent signings by the pro team.
BGN: Could you describe the current setup of Richmond United – number of teams, size, age groups, the schedule throughout the year, etc.?
SG: Richmond United is a collaboration of the Richmond Kickers and Richmond Strikers. The boys’ teams (U12-19) play in US Soccer’s Development Academy. The girls’ side (U13-19) play in the ECNL. We have a group of full-time players (between 15-25) in each age group between U12 and U19. Our preseason starts in early August and our season ends in early/late June (depending on age group and additional events). During December and January, we substitute some regular practices with Futsal (U12-14) and Sports Performance (U15-19) through our partner Bon Secours. On average, the U13-19 teams train four times a week from August until June and play 40 games during that time frame. The U12s train only three times a week. We take a two-week break at the end of December.
BGN: How would you describe the relationship between Richmond United and the Richmond Kickers League One team, and Richmond United and the Kickers Youth Club organization?
SG: We are part of the Richmond Kickers and Richmond Strikers youth clubs, so our relationship with them is very good. Both clubs do an outstanding job in helping us create a great development environment for the next generation of Richmond’s soccer stars. Since the sale of the Pro team, we are not directly affiliated with the Pro team anymore.
Our relationship with the Pro team consists of our highest performing players having the opportunity to train and play with the Pro team. By doing this, these players experience an environment that will take them out of their comfort zone and challenge them to adapt to a higher level. Since 2015, 12 Richmond United players have trained on a regular basis with the pro team with seven of them signing amateur contracts, which made them eligible for professional games without losing their college eligibility. Five Richmond United players played in official competitive matches:
- Drew Romig in 2015 against West Brom Albion
- Sawyer Gaffney in 2016 at Charlotte Independence
- Simon Fitch in 2017 against Swansea FC
- Sam Moore in 2019 against Orlando City B
- Key White in 2019 against North Texas FC
In addition, Mika Elovaara is also an assistant coach with one of our younger age groups, so there is that connection and exchange of ideas between the staff.
BGN: From a goals perspective, what is the focus of each academy group in general regarding tactics vs. fitness vs. formation vs. winning competitions, etc? And long-term how do you see the goals for players as they age out of Richmond United – is there a focus to prepare them to play soccer in college, push for a professional contract, or a combination based on the players?
SG: For 95% of our graduates, the next level after Academy is college soccer. RU alumni are currently playing in 20 different college programs. In addition, over the last three seasons, we had six Richmond United players who left the program to join MLS Academies (DC United, Atlanta United, & Columbus Crew). As a result, Richmond United players end up playing for different programs after they leave Richmond United. The player and our staff usually don’t know until very late in the process.
So, our goal in regards to the soccer development for the players is to prepare them as best as possible for any environment they are moving into when they leave Richmond United. For this, we have a talent development plan in place that lays out age-appropriate guidelines in all areas. For example, phases for game principles based on the physical, cognitive, emotional and social development stage of the player. So going back to your question, we do have different guidelines and philosophies when it comes to tactics, fitness, formation and winning competitions based on the age group.
It's Feature Game Day for the Boys in Lakewood Ranch, FL!
The U17 Boys will play MLS Side @DynamoAcademy today at 11 am.
— Richmond United (@RichmondUtd) December 6, 2019
BGN: How often are you working/talking with Matt Spear or the Richmond Kickers coaching staff to discuss player development and potential players that may be candidates for time with the USL League One team?
SG: I speak to Matt and Mika about the high performing players in Richmond United. We also need to consider the school situation and where the player lives when determining if and how often an Academy player can actually train with the Pro team. It takes a significant amount of effort of the player and support of the school to change the schedule of a student so that he can participate in a professional practice during the day.
BGN: As an organization, what are Richmond United’s goals for 2020? And looking farther down the road, how would you like Richmond United to look by 2025?
SG: We want to continue creating an environment with Richmond United that attracts the most talented, passionate soccer players in the Central Virginia area. From an individual team standpoint, having one of our teams make the National Playoffs would be a wonderful achievement. We would like for all of our players to enjoy spending their time with Richmond United. Supporting our players and helping them get closer to their dreams is the goal for every coach.
BGN: There was chatter online about possible Celtic academy individuals being in the area recently. Was there any contact with Richmond United and is there a possibility of a relationship developing there between the two academy systems?
SG: I don’t know anything about this.
BGN: Last season Key White and Sam Moore was signed by the Richmond Kickers before heading off to UNC in the fall. Can you talk us through how the process worked for those two going from playing with Richmond United to the idea of making that move to the ultimate decision? Is that something you expect to see continue in 2020 and beyond? Are there any players at the top level of Richmond United’s team that are potential candidates to end up getting playing time for the Richmond Kickers this coming season?
SG: Sam and Key have been top performers in our Academy for a number of years. Both joined Richmond United in 2015 and were coached by David Bulow the year before he took over the Pro Team. David had a very good understanding of the ability of both players and believed that they can contribute to the professional environment.
For Key, this was a little trickier as he lived in Virginia Beach. Key played the whole season with Richmond United and didn’t start training with the Pro team until June when school was out and he signed an amateur contract then to stay with the team until he also left for UNC.
The decision to sign an amateur contract is not difficult for the players. They don’t give up anything. They keep their NCAA eligibility, they continue to train and play with Richmond United and in addition, they can challenge themselves and learn from professional players. It is a wonderful tool that will help our highest performing players in their development.
BGN: What are your thoughts on the potential to bring a new women’s senior team to the Richmond area, whether that be a league like the WPSL or another option?
SG: More soccer is always good.
— Richmond United (@RichmondUtd) January 13, 2020
BGN: The Richmond Kickers just signed Victor Falck, the first Richmond United alumni to get a pro contract with the club. Can you give us your thoughts on what you think Victor will bring to the team this year in USL League One, and what position(s) on the field play to his strengths the most?
SG: Victor is a very different player now then he was 4 years ago when he played for Richmond United, so I won’t be able to comment on how his strengths fit best positionally for Darren’s team. Two things that always stood out to me were his focus on improving and doing the right thing for the team. In attack, he would score quite a few goals from a central midfield role, but he also worked incredibly hard when defending.