Richmond Kickers: The Start of a New Era

One of the classic American soccer franchises, Richmond Kickers now enter a new era of the club.

How We Got Here

The Richmond Kickers and their fans are desperate to put 2018 behind them and step into the next era for the club. They will now focus on their new league and opponents rather than the shift in USL that pushed the club into self-relegation. December marked the beginning of the rebuilding process.

Founded in 1993, Richmond is home to one of the longest-running clubs in US soccer. Over the past 25 seasons, they’ve played under numerous league banners including USISL, USISL Indoor, USISL Premier League, USISL Select League, USISL A-League, USL A-League, USL First Division, USL Second Division, USL Pro, and then USL (up through last year). If nothing else, the Kickers understand a league rebrand and restructure process.

As soccer in America finally began to stabilize, Richmond was consistently at the top of the USL. Between 2006 and 2014, the Kickers never finished worse than 4th in the regular season, finishing top of the table three times, making it to at least the semi-finals eight times, and lifting the trophy twice (2006 and 2009).

The USL Surges As The Kickers Stand Still

In 2015, the league was re-branded into the USL we have recently known and began to explode with new teams. Thirteen new clubs joined the league that season with the total number of clubs exceeding 30 by 2018. During the past few years, the USL has done a tremendous job expanding across the country, seeing new stadiums built, and grow attendance every season. Even as clubs were picked off by Major League Soccer, the USL continued to thrive as a strong second division.

The introduction of new clubs, and their investment, both in players and facilities, pushed Richmond farther down the ladder each season. Over the past four seasons, the Kickers finished 6th, 7th, 14th, and 15th in the Eastern Conference. The 2018 season was an especially tough one for the team and its supporters with only six wins in 34 matches, a dreadful 24 losses, and giving up 80 goals in the process (A disappointing 2.35 goals allowed per match). Only two teams finished with fewer points than Richmond, one of which (Toronto FC II) will join the Kickers in their new league.

Welcome to USL League One

Seeing growth at both the second and fourth divisions (USL and PDL) and a lack of a third division in America, the USL rolled out a massive rebrand and restructure last September. USL League One will now fill the division three void and consist of former USL and PDL clubs, as well as a few brand new franchises, to fill out the league in year one.

The positives for the Kickers is that the new league offers a chance to compete again, something that was no longer possible in the newly rebranded USL Championship, and gives the club a fresh start after two very tough seasons.

The look of a long term club self-relegating isn’t great. But to the average fan, it won’t be an issue. In fact, winning, even over new teams they may have never heard of, is more important to the current demographics than any prestige of fighting at the bottom of division two.

Loyal fans will notice the lack of local rivals. In 2018, the Kickers were able to play teams from Raleigh, Louisville, Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Charleston, and Atlanta. The newly formed Greenville Triumph will be their closest opponent in 2019, with Penn FC arriving in 2020. But overall, attendance which averaged around 4,000 in 2018, shouldn’t see much of a dip at all in League One.

The ‘Major Announcement’ & 2019

Fellow League One clubs have been rolling out stadium updates, new player signings, and branding over the past few weeks and months. For a while, it was quiet in Richmond, since the end of the 2018 season, outside of the announcement of a new President (Matt Spear).

Then came the December press conference, dubbed as a major announcement regarding the future of the club. An update on the stadium renovations? An update of the club’s logo and launching new merchandise heading into the next era? It was neither of these things. Instead, it was an announcement about a new ownership group, something people had started to wonder about with the move to a new league. But, how major would it be to the average fan?

The new majority owners of the club are 22 Holdings, LLC, having purchased the team from the Richmond Kickers Youth Soccer Club. The fact that the professional team was still owned by the youth soccer organization in 2018 was probably a sign unto itself that the club needed a fresh start in today’s soccer landscape. The group consists of 6 members who played together at Davidson College. Matt Spear, the new club president, is also a part of that Davidson squad, now effectively runs and owns part of the club.

Since the announcement, ten players have been signed, beginning to fill out a squad as preseason kicks of this week. Still to be determined is the formation and style of play head coach David Bulow wants to deploy now with a full preseason to work with. Questions regarding the planned stadium renovations and a sense of how the organization will level up against this new group of competitors will be better assessed as 2019 progresses.

For now, Kickers fans can count down the days until March 30th, when they embark on this next chapter in the club’s long history and host Lansing Ignite.


Top Photo Credit: Jessica Stone Hendricks Photography

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.