Just as we did last year, we decided to give you an introduction to the Richmond Kickers, D.C. United's USL PRO affiliate. Joe Willis, Jalen Robinson, Christiano Francois, and Michael Seaton have all been sent on long-term loan to the Kickers, but they can be recalled at any time and other players can be sent down at any time. Collin Martin will be there this weekend, and I expect him to be sent on a number of short-term loans throughout the season. And while there are supposed to be four players there at any given time, last year proved that the requirement is more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule. If you have any more questions about the Kickers, let me know in the comments and I can try and find the answers for you.
2013 results: The Richmond Kickers rode a 22 game unbeaten streak to get 55 points out of 26 games, top of the league and earning them the Commissioner's Cup. They made it to the semi-finals of the USL PRO playoffs, losing to the Charlotte Eagles.
New faces: The Kickers have made a number of moves this offseason. From the Orange County Blues, they signed USL PRO veterans Shay Spitz and George Davis IV, and new midfielder Samuel Asante comes to the Kickers from the Charlotte Eagles. Hugh Roberts was also signed to his first professional contract out of George Mason University.
Departed players: Joseph Ngwenya, Brian Ownby, and Nate Robinson are the biggest names who are not back with the Kickers; Ngwenya went to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Ownby was loaned by the Houston Dynamo to Richmond and will either stay with them or be loaned to the Riverhounds. Robinson injured his knee on trial in Scandinavia, but I think that he will be back with the Kickers later this season. Other departures include Joseph Haboush and David Bulow.
Style of play: Last year, the Kickers nominally played out of a 4-2-3-1, but the attacking four would often attack and interchange as a group. Ngwenya pulled the strings last year from the central attacking midfielder role, and that job will fall to Collin Martin whenever he is there.
League History: The Richmond Kickers were founded in 1993 and played their inaugural season in the United States Interregional Soccer League. After the turmoil of soccer leagues starting and ending in the early and mid 1990s, the team ended up in the A-League, which had combined the American Professional Soccer League and the USISL. The team self-relegated from the USL First Division, the successor to the A-League, to the USL Second Division in 2006, and has remained on the third tier of the US Soccer Pyramid since then. This is their fourth season in USL PRO.
Silverware: 1995 US Open Cup, 1995 USISL Premier League Trophy, 2001 A-League Regular Season Champions, 2006 USL-2 Regular Season Champions, 2006 USL-2 Champions, 2007 USL-2 Regular Season Champions, 2009 USL-2 Champions, 2013 USL PRO Regular Season Champions.
Coach and Director of Soccer: You already know this, but the coach of the Richmond Kickers is Leigh Cowlishaw, who has been with the team ever since it was founded in 1993. Cowlishaw retired due to failing knees in 1999 and took over the reigns of the club in 2000. He also served as the head coach of the University of Richmond men's soccer team in 2012, which was that team's last season before being disbanded in favor of a lacrosse team.
Owner: Technically, the Richmond Kickers Youth Soccer Club, a 501c3 non-profit company, bought the team in 2009. However, Rob Ukrop is the primary figure behind all of it. Ukrop is locally famous as being a member of the Ukrop family of grocery store owner, which was recently bought out by Giant and turned into Martins. However, the Ukrop family business still makes all of the hot prepared food in the stores. Ukrop also played for the Kickers in the inaugural season and returned to the Kickers after a brief sojourn that included time with the New England Revolution.
Notable alumni: Some former Kickers whose names you might recognize include Dwayne De Rosario, Richie Williams, Clyde Simms, Bryan Namoff, Brian Carroll, and Mark Simpson. All told, there have been 22 Kickers players that have gone from the team to play in MLS, and that doesn't count any of their loanees from MLS teams.
Mascot: Kickeroo. Kickeroo is the kangaroo mascot of the Richmond Kickers. He been a number of different colors, including blue, then a dark reddish-brown, and now tan. Like most mascots, including Talon, he combines the strange and the delightful.
Stadium: Building a soccer specific stadium is one of the top items on their wish list, but City Stadium remains their home for now. City Stadium was built in 1929 and was originally the home of the University of Richmond Spiders football team; however, since 2009 the Kickers have been the only regular tenant at the stadium. It is mere blocks from one of Richmond's primary entertainment districts, Carytown. It is rundown, but they now sell beer at the games, and it also has air conditioning in the press box and a moon-bounce, two things that RFK does not have.
Academy: The Kickers academy was founded in May 2000, which makes it older than D.C. United's academy. his means that they have access to the full gamut of resources offered by U.S. Soccer, they are on the 10 month schedule, and they play against other USDA teams, such as D.C. United's Academy. One fruit of this affiliation so far is that there has been at least one player to leave the Kickers academy to join D.C. United's academy.