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Cliffs Notes, US Open Cup Edition: Richmond

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Richmond's leading scorer Matthew Delicâte (via <a href="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_WVe2qY0Moxs/SxUuOKlszNI/AAAAAAAABAg/6EzaGbb4HYI/s320/2009_Delicate-final.jpg">soccerarchives.blogspot.com</a>)
Richmond's leading scorer Matthew Delicâte (via soccerarchives.blogspot.com)

I should lead off by saying I know little about the 2010 edition of the Richmond Kickers. That's more than nothing, but not by much. However, I figure I can share what knowledge I do have ahead of their visit to DC United's new home away from home, George Mason Stadium.

Twelve games into the 2010 USL-2 season, Richmond sits in 2nd place on 19 points (5 points behind the Charleston Battery). To get to this point in the US Open Cup, Richmond has offended me personally by taking out the two Maryland clubs to make it to the tournament proper. In the first round, the Kickers needed extra time to beat Crystal Palace Baltimore 1-0, with the goal coming in the 119th minute. Things went more smoothly in the next round, as Richmond knocked out USL-2 rivals Real Maryland 3-1. Both games took place at Richmond, so this will be their first (and hopefully last) away game in the Open Cup.

Want to know about their individual players? Read on!

The player that jumps out at me as Richmond's biggest threat is English forward Matthew Delicâte. If you follow the Open Cup or the American lower leagues at all, you will notice that Delicâte pops up on seemingly every game report as having scored for Richmond. It was no surprise to see that the aforementioned gamewinner in extra time against Crystal Palace Baltimore was scored by Delicâte, as was Richmond's second goal against Real Maryland. In short, when the Kickers need a goal, he's the guy that scores it. His form in 2010 is particularly worth noting. In 14 competitive games this year, Delicâte has scored 12 goals. At any level, that's a wildly impressive strike rate.

In goal, the Kickers feature veteran Ronnie Pascale, who has been the first-choice keeper in Richmond for a decade. In our past Open Cup encounters, Pascale has always managed to pull off a top-notch save or two, which has helped the trend of these games being far closer than United fans would like. At 33, Pascale is at a good age for a goalkeeper, so our forwards will have to be sharp if we're going to get the goals we need.

Followers of the MLS draft will recognize a lot of Richmond's likely starters (assuming they use something close to their first-choice team). Towering Cameroonian center back Yomby William (Kansas City), defensive midfielder Luke Vercollone (Columbus and New England), former #1 MLS draft pick Chris Carrieri (San Jose, Colorado, and Chicago), speedster Edson Elcock (Kansas City), and former United player Mike Burke were all either drafted or played for MLS teams at some point in their careers. While Carrieri doesn't appear on any recent Richmond lineups, everyone else in this group is a frequent starter. William is 6'4" and scored for the Kickers in the previous round of the Open Cup, so we'll have to deal with him on set pieces. Speaking of set pieces, Burke is the other big worry. If we give fouls away in our defensive third, Burke is a threat both shooting on goal and when he tries to set up others for headers. He also has a tendency to play very well against DC, so he's potentially a big problem.

Virtually every "MLS team vs. lower-level team" Open Cup game starts the same way. The lower-level team comes out trying to keep the game tight, with the focus on making it very difficult to break through. Attacking ambition, in the beginning, is kept to a minimum. If the game turns into a midfield scrap, or if the MLS club is keeping harmless possession around the midfield stripe, the lower-level club is playing the game on the terms they want. Once they establish that foothold, you start to see more confidence on the counter attack, and set pieces are always big moments for these clubs.

The best way to go about winning this game is to never let Richmond gain that foothold. This means being incisive with our early moves forward. An early goal would be ideal, but at the very least we have to give the Kickers a reason to be nervous. If we keep their confidence low, they never start thinking "Hey, we can win this thing!" Instead, their thoughts stay focused on defending for their lives. I would also guess that, given facing a likely center back pairing of William and 6'2" Ugandan Henry Kalungi, we'll have less success looping in crosses. The better way to attack might well be to fire in low, hard crosses that negate that aerial advantage. Given that we don't really cross the ball well anyway, this might be a strategy to adopt more often.