By NICHOLAS MURRAY – firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, March 21, 2016
As quickly as the USL has grown over the past two seasons, adding strong new clubs into the mix for playoff contention thanks to well-built squads in both 2014 and 2015, there remains something to be said for continuity.
Indeed, Richmond Kickers forward Jason Yeisley believes the relationships the club’s players have built over the years is one of the keys to the Kickers reaching the USL Playoffs in each of the league’s five previous seasons.
“It’s huge,” Yeisley said recently. “We don’t have to go into a lot of seasons trying to figure things out. There are a lot of familiar faces, and there’s a certain understanding. When you see certain players you’ve played with for a while, and when they’re about to do something, or maybe they’re shaping their body up a certain way, you know what’s going to come next. [When you] kind of have that intangible connection and understanding with players, it goes a really long way.”
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Entering his fifth season in Richmond, Yeisley had a career year in 2015 that saw him notch a team-high 13 goals and earn USL All-League honors for the first time. Yeisley’s movement to find space in the penalty area was a key factor, but the 29-year-old gave a lot of credit to the service he received from the cast of characters supporting him.
“We had a really good group of players last year, and I think at certain times and in certain years that just clicks,” Yeisley said. “You have a certain understanding with players, and I think I was very lucky and very fortunate last year to be on the end of a lot of great crosses and services from many different players throughout the season. I just happened to be in the right spot.”
As consistent as the Kickers have been in the regular season, having claimed the 2013 USL regular-season championship, it hasn’t quite translated to the playoffs. The side has fallen short of the USL Championship Game in each of the past five seasons, including in dramatic fashion to its opponent to start the new season on Saturday, Harrisburg, in the semifinals in 2014.
After seeing the Rochester Rhinos break through a season ago to not only reach their first final since 2006, but also claim their first title since 2001, Yeisley is optimistic that the Kickers’ time is coming soon.
“I think having that consistency and making some of these runs we’ve been able to put in through the regular season, it’s going to come,” Yeisley said. “We have the players, and I think it’s just coming down to being unlucky in a couple of these playoff years, but it’s going to come, hopefully this year.”
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Saturday’s game with Harrisburg is followed by two more contests against historic USL rivals in Wilmington Hammerheads FC and the Rochester Rhinos. As interesting as the league has become thanks to its rapid expansion, games like these, and in particular against longtime rival the Charleston Battery, bring a history that Yeisley and his teammates enjoy greatly.
“We always look forward to those games,” Yeisley said. “It gives us an extra bit of excitement to play those teams, and even when you meet guys who played before us, when you talk to guys who’ve been in those rivalries in years past about what it meant to them, it’s neat to be on a team that has that history of playing for more than your current team, for the guys that played years and years before.”
As the Kickers look to maintain their traditional position near the top of the USL, Yeisley is eager for the blend of old and new players to make its mark in the club’s storied history.“I’m just really excited about the team we’ve put together for this season,” Yeisley said. “It’s a great mix of returning veteran players and new players, and I think there’s going to be quite a few surprises of players who don’t necessarily have a name behind them yet. [With] what we’ve seen from them so far, there could be some new faces out there that will make their name.”