Ten matches into their first USL League One season, the Richmond Kickers have been down, up, and down again – but what exactly is their best lineup?
It’s been just over two months since the Richmond Kickers launched their latest venture in a new professional soccer league. Nearly an entirely new roster, Coach David Bulow’s first full season in charge, brand new teams, and most importantly, the implementation of a new playing style. All that adds up to a high level of uncertainty entering the season.
The year started off slowly—one point out of nine slow. But then the team found its groove not only on the attack but more importantly in implementing Bulow’s possession-based/play-out-of-the-back style. Three wins and a draw, allowing just .5 goals over the next four matches. The Kickers were back above the playoff line.
Since then? Three matches against teams continuing to press and push Richmond, knowing they want to build play out of the back. Three losses and seven goals allowed.
Where should Richmond go from here?
Coach Bulow is committed to his system. As he should be. It is a system that takes time and finding the starting XI that can best stick to the philosophy and remain calm under pressure while the team develops into this style of play. So, what is the depth chart of the Richmond Kickers?
One issue that complicates this is the league’s lack of formal injury reports. We are never 100% clear where each player on the roster stands with injuries, fitness levels, and availability. That won’t change any time soon, so it comes down to the eye test. Who best fits the system and has shown that during the opening third of the season?
Note: I’m going with a 4-2-3-1 system. Richmond has played a lot of formations throughout, but fundamentally they are operating in this system. The fullbacks push forward and the two center midfielders push back to build up play, but that’s playing style, not how the team lines up.
- Starter: Akira Fitzgerald
- Backup: Joe Rice
- Notes: No other keeper has seen action yet this season except Fitzgerald, who has been an excellent pick up by Richmond. At some point this season, it would be nice to see one of the backup keepers get into a match to see how comfortable they look.
- Starter: Eli Lockaby
- Backup: Jannik Eckenrode
- Notes: 80% passing accuracy, 89% in the Kickers defensive half, and a goal during his first professional year. Lockaby should be the RB each match he is available.
- Starter: Scott Thomsen
- Backup: Braeden Troyer
- Notes: Both players are experienced and loved by the Richmond fan base, but sit 17th and 18th in passing accuracy. Thomsen has been involved in creating six chances however, 4th best on the team.
- Starters: Wahab Ackwei & Conor Shanosky
- Backups: Aboubacar Keita & Ivan Magalhaes
- Notes: Ackwei has been the standout CB over the course of the opening ten matches and has a 90.9% passing accuracy in the Kickers defensive half. Shanosky leads the CBs in long-distance passing accuracy, which while that is against the ideal style of the play for Bulow, is a nice outlet to have to break the press.
- Starters: Maxi Rodríguez & Josh Hughes
- Backups: Nicholas Retzlaff & Greg Boehme
- Notes: Maxi has nearly double the passes than any player on the team, with an impressive 685. Only one other player has more than 400 (Ackwei). Rodriguez also leads the team in tackles and duels won—there is a reason he is the captain. Meanwhile, Hughes has a goal, an assist, four chances created, and is third in passing accuracy. They are the clear starters, but Retzlaff deserves another look. During his only start of the season, he racked up nearly 90% passing accuracy, perfect for Bulow’s system.
- Starter: Mutaya Mwape
- Backup: Alex Ainscough
- Notes: Amass Amankona should be the player challenge Mwape for the position, but right now he has proven to be a more dangerous option for Richmond over Ainscough.
- Starter: Matthew Bolduc
- Backup: Dennis Chin
- Notes: Here is likely the most contentious spot in the lineup right now. Chin has two goals, but Bolduc is ahead of him in assists (league leader), shots, chances created, and passing accuracy. In fact, Chin sits dead last in passing accuracy on the team, for players who have played as at least 45 minutes during the season. That has to improve in order to start in a possession style offense. If he had four or five goals by now then Bulow might be able to look past that, but for now, Buldon is the best option on the left flank.
- Starter: Joe Gallardo
- Backup: Lucas Mendes
- Notes: There is no reason Gallardo isn’t in the starting XI each week. He leads the team in goals, shots, and chances created.
Death, taxes and Joe Gallardo bangers!@RichmondKickers take all three points at home.
— USL League One (@USLLeagueOne) May 12, 2019
- Starter: Charles Boateng
- Backup: Daniel Jackson
- Notes: The issue here is that Richmond really doesn’t have a great option up top. DJ has one goal and one assist, from ten matches. But zero chances created for others and a passing accuracy of 65% in the attacking half, which is less than you’d like to see in a striker holding the ball up in this possession style of play. Boateng has had few opportunities but still hasn’t registered a shot on goal after 261 minutes. In his defense, Richmond only created five chances all night, with one of those coming from Boateng himself. Boateng had a perfect 9-for-9 in passing accuracy against North Texas and sits at 82% on the season. Time to give him more chances and the attacking threats he needs – Bolduc, Mwape & Lockaby.