If you have not yet jumped onto the USL ship, now is the time to find your team. The USL is home to some of the most passionate, vibrant and informed fan bases in US sport. The undeniable appeal of the USL has brought money, resources, stadiums, coaches and players to soccer communities that have been pushed out of the picture for years, perhaps decades.
But with new teams appearing each season, it can be difficult to keep up. Resident USL Expert, Busby Cagle, is here to help. Each week, Busby will spotlight one USL club, looking at the history of the club, the players, the fans, and the prospect of success in the near or distant future.
If you missed the RGV FC Spotlight last week, catch up:
Home Ground: City Stadium; Richmond, Virginia
Manager: Leigh Cowlishaw
2017 Finish: 14th, Eastern Conference
Nickname: The Red Army
Next Match: Saturday, March 24 vs. Indy Eleven; 5:00 PM ET; City Stadium
Believe it or not, there are actually clubs in the USL with history. Richmond boasts one such side, the Kickers holding the silver medal as the second oldest continuously run football club in the United States (behind USL and Eastern Conference rivals, the Charleston Battery). Founded in 1993, the Kickers have played in nearly every iteration of lower league football in this country, under a whole mess of lovely, forgotten divisions and acronyms. USISL? If you remember what that stands for, you are either a former United States Interregional (later International) Soccer League player or a liar trying to look cool for an audience of god knows who.
Their name harkens back to a simpler time in the American soccer world, without the Europhilic nomenclature of the past decade or so. No FC’s, or United’s, or Sporting’s, or...Real’s (seriously, who approved that idea?). This is very clearly a side with roots in the years when draws were considered unpatriotic, and the penalty shootout reigned supreme.
Indeed, the greatest moment in Kickers’ history came at the conclusion of such a shootout, when they defeated the even more American-named El Paso Patriots to take home the 1995 U.S. Open Cup. The dearly departed Rochester Rhinos are the only lower league side to have won the trophy since, doing so in 1999.
LEIGH COWLISHAW - PLAYER-MANGER BEFORE GIGGS MADE IT COOL
Flash forward to now, and the Kickers are led by the man who assisted their 49th minute go-ahead goal in that final: Leigh Cowlishaw. The Englishman took charge of the side following his retirement following the 1999 season, and has been at the helm ever since, including a three year span from 2007 to 2009 where he decided managing alone wasn’t enough of a challenge.
That’s right, at age 36, Cowlishaw came out of retirement to act as player-manager, making four appearances and actually managing to pick up a goal for his troubles. It would appear that he failed to register himself for the current season, however, so don’t expect any late heroics from the near-quinquagenarian.
2017 - A YEAR TO FORGET
Both current and past members of the Red Army would be hard-pressed to recall a season worse than Richmond’s 2017 campaign. The Kickers finished a club low 14th place in the Eastern Conference, and failed to make the playoffs for only the third time in their tenure in the outdoor game (this may seem a strange distinction, but in 1994, the Kickers also fielded a professional indoor team, which also failed to make the playoffs). A late resurgence which saw Richmond take 15 of the last 27 available points was not enough to overcome a first half of the season that was defined by a 13 match winless streak.
This impressively mediocre run was largely the fault of an impotent strike force, scoring only seven goals during that 13-game stretch, and being shutout eight times. Ironically, this drought also included the Kickers’ co-highest scoring match of the year, an all guns blazing 5-3 defeat at Ottawa Fury FC. All three of Richmond’s goals came from leading scorer Alhaji Kamara, who managed to take the club’s top honors, despite only scoring once more the entire year. Their total goals scored (24) was the absolute bottom of the barrel for either conference.
New signing Heviel Cordovés will need to get off the mark soon to jumpstart the sputtering Richmond attack. The former Charleston Battery striker picked up a career-high 10 goals last season, which, if recreated this year, would nearly double the Kickers’ offensive output.
However, the flat midfield 4-5-1 that Cowlishaw employed on opening day seems to imply that Richmond will be looking for more goals from the middle of the park. The midfielders would certainly struggle to bag fewer than the 13 goals they collectively managed last season.
Speaking of opening day, though, the Kickers...ugh...kicked off the 2018 season with a trip to (just outside) Philadelphia and hardly showered themselves in glory. An absolute belter of a goal from 30 yards out, delivered by midfielder Oscar Umar, in the 57th minute was the only bright spot in their 4-1 routing at the hands of Bethlehem Steel. The current defense looks particularly sloppy; none of the four goals allowed came from particularly inspired build-up play. In order, the causes of concession were: (1) misjudged cross by goalkeeper (and D.C. United loanee) Travis Worra, (2) complete midfield breakdown, (3) failed clearance followed by a shocking lack of recovery and (4) a disconnected attempt at an offside trap.
The starting back four included three key returning players, left back Braeden Troyer, center back Conor Shanosky, and right back Alex Lee. Despite their experience and familiarity, the defenders looked incredibly disjointed, allowing Bethlehem to charge through their lines with impunity. Cowlishaw will need to instill far more discipline in his back line if RIchmond are to have any hope of making the playoffs. Additionally, he’ll be hoping that former Colorado Rapids defender Mekeil Williams will mend some of the holes in the defensive core.
Unfortunately, this coming together will have to wait, as both Williams and Lee were called up to national team duty, by Trinidad & Tobago and Guam, respectively. Both will likely be unavailable for the Kickers in their home opener on March 24th, when Richmond host USL-newcomers Indy Eleven.
The Red Army will look to make a fortress out of City Stadium, where they took 21 of their 32 points and 75% of their wins during the 2017 campaign. Will Richmond be able to (please forgive me, I can’t help myself) Kick Indy out of town? Find out Saturday.