With the players they have returning, Richmond Kickers could have the best defense in League One.
When you look at the teams for the inaugural USL League One Season, you’ll see some familiar names and brand-new ones. While Toronto, Orlando, and Richmond all played in USL Championship before moving to League One, only one of those teams is not a B side for an MLS team. While the Richmond Kickers may have more history than any other team in USL League One, they may relate more with the teams who are putting together their first season ever.
The Richmond Kickers will start the inaugural year as the oldest existing team in the league. Founded in 1993, the two USL championships and the remarkable US Open Cup championships are now over a decade old and distant memories for most fans. Coming off their worst season ever in 2017, it was time for the Kickers to change their style and tactics with their first new coach in seventeen years. This is when former Richmond Kickers player David Bulow was given the keys. Announced head coach in mid-season 2018, Coach Bulow was put in a position to coach a team with players he did not select, in a style that was not his, and watched a sinking ship continue to sink, giving up a league-worst 80 goals on the season. So, coming into a new year in a new league, Coach Bulow knew in his mind there was only one solution, build a new ship from scratch.
“Last year was tough and pretty short notice for me. The team wasn’t my team and the players didn’t really suit what I was trying to do…With us moving into League One now, we released everyone from their contracts which I thought was the fair thing to do and it also gave me the opportunity to sign players from scratch.”
However, Coach Bulow’s new chapter wouldn’t be one with all new characters. After releasing contracts from all players, Coach had three familiar faces on defense who wanted to stay in Richmond.
“I wanted guys that want to be here, and those guys said from the jump that they had no intentions to leave and they were buying into me and the vision of the management as well.”
Leading the defensive core with the most starts in 2018 between the three, Braeden Troyer returns to Richmond for his fourth consecutive season. The left-back, who can also play central, played 25 games for Richmond last year and showed the ability to overlap down the side, sending in 16 crosses, 8 key passes, and 3 shots on goal. But, it was Braeden’s defense that was a bright spot on a weak defensive side, with 56 interceptions and 79 tackles, which were both team highs.
Another returning defensive player who was a familiar face to the Richmond organization was Scott Thomsen, and if crossing is your thing, boy, do I have news for you! With 43 crosses in only 14 games started, Scott has no issue going from his own goalpost to his opponents. However, it’s Scott’s finishing in the final third that will be key to Richmond’s success, as he looks to USL journeyman Daniel Jackson to finish what he starts. A player who has already accumulated the 2nd most goals in preseason across the whole league.
While many teams may lack chemistry to start the season, players familiar with Coach Bulow and the possession style he wants to play will have a competitive advantage in the beginning. The 6’4 enforcer, Conor Shanosky, will try to recreate his 2018 Richmond Kickers team-high 68% aerial duels won and his 81% passing accuracy to get the ball into the midfield or down the line. And oh yeah, maybe a couple of set-piece goals.
With three defenders that averaged 41 passes per 90 minutes last year, it will be important for Richmond that their defense does not only play their role on the defensive side but also maintaining possession whether they are playing through the middle or interchanging down the side. With a solid veteran backline and a chance for Coach Bulow to sail his new ship, this Richmond Kickers side has a very solid anchor.