By CHARLIE CORR – firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, March 21, 2016
The Richmond Kickers extended their postseason berth streak to five in 2015, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy Leigh Cowlishaw’s club. Richmond dropped its Eastern Conference Quarterfinal match against the Charleston Battery and endured a rocky regular season in which the Kickers needed to win their finale just to clinch a spot in the USL Playoffs. The brunt of last season’s lineup returns in 2016, and the bottom line is Richmond will demand a more steadfast performance from this group throughout the campaign to go further than last season.
Head Coach: Leigh Cowlishaw
Stadium: City Stadium
2015 results: 10-7-11 record; 6th in Eastern Conference
2015 postseason: 2-1 OT loss vs. Charleston in East Quarterfinals
Goalkeeper: Ryan Taylor returns for his fourth season with the Kickers after splitting time with Travis Worra last season. Taylor manned the net for the bulk of the team’s victories, posting a 7-3-3 record and 40 saves in his 13 appearances. Backing him up is Kickers Academy goalkeeper Sawyer Gaffney, who has been with Richmond’s youth system since 12. Cowlishaw has raved about Gaffney’s dedication and drive thus far.
Defense: The Kickers’ back line tied for the fifth-fewest goals conceded in the Eastern Conference last season, and they are rolling with the same back line in 2016. Center back William Yomby captained the group, leading the team with 2,318 minutes in 27 games. He is joined by Braeden Troyer, Hugh Roberts and Alex Lee, who all started during the regular-season stretch and postseason. Sascha Gorres has been a staple for the Kickers and appeared in 21 games and posted four assists last year.
Midfield: The club has announced six returning players to the midfield, headlined by Fred Owusu-Sekyere, Michael Callahan and Samuel Asante, who all made more than 20 regular-season appearances last year. Owusu-Sekyere led the group with five assists. Also returning is Brian Ownby, who in just 13 games and less than 1,000 minutes scored four goals and added four assists. A newcomer to this group is former Virginia Commonwealth University standout Lucas Paulini, who spent the past four years with the Atlanta Silverbacks.
Forward: The front line has experienced the most changes, but even still, some important pieces are back. Leading goal-scorer Jason Yeisley, who had 13 tallies in 2015, leads the attack. Veteran Matthew Delicate, the USL’s No. 2 all-time leading goal-scorer heading into 2016, is coming off a six-goal season, with roughly half of his appearances from the bench. Though George Davis IV is no longer part of the attack, heading to Louisville City FC during the offseason, the Kickers targeted Lesotho international Sunny Jane, who spent the past two seasons with Wilmington Hammerheads FC, and signed a pair of Brazilian newcomers in Luis Fernando Nascimento and Romulo Peretta.
Strengths: The Kickers’ midfield depth and familiarity will be the most important facet of this club if it wants to improve on last season. A possible X-factor could be Paulini, whose quality and experience have been praised through his four-year tenure in Atlanta. Owusu’s leadership and stability also are given intangibles for Richmond each season.
Weaknesses: One setback from the 2015 season that Richmond certainly will want to remedy are some drop-offs when the defense was clicking and the offense wasn’t, or vice versa. Case in point last year, the Kickers were involved in four scoreless draws, and in four other instances the offense posted two or more goals and wound up with either a draw or a loss in each case. Should the returning back line keep its opponents in check and Richmond not become so reliant on Yeisley to shoulder the bulk of the scoring, the Kickers should find a better equilibrium this year.
Key number: 41 – Matthew Delicate has scored 41 goals since the 2011 USL season, which ranks second all-time in the league behind only Swope Park Rangers’ Dane Kelly (42).
Noteworthy matchups: Perhaps the rematch circled on the Kickers’ calendar will be against the Charleston Battery on July 2 at MUSC Health Stadium, where Charleston ended Richmond’s 2015 season in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Elsewhere, Richmond will want to right the ship against second-year club Louisville City FC after posting a draw and loss during City’s first campaign. Richmond and Louisville first meet on May 21, when now-former Kickers striker George Davis IV could be making his return to City Stadium.
Coach’s view: “We are positive our fan base will continue to grow at an exciting pace, and we are optimistic that the Richmond community can be the difference maker and an important competitive advance for the club.” – Leigh Cowlishaw
Current roster (updated: March 21, 2016):
Goalkeepers: Sawyer Gaffney, Ryan Taylor
Defenders: Sascha Gorres, Alex Lee, Hugh Roberts, Braeden Troyer, William Yomby
Midfielders: Samuel Asante, Michael Callahan, Yudai Imura, Brian Ownby, Fred Owusu-Sekyere, Lucas Paulini, Nate Shiffman
Forwards: Matthew Delicate, Luiz Fernando, Anthony Grant, Sunny Jane, Romulo Peretta, Jason Yeisley