Andrew Dykstra returned to the Richmond lineup for the first time this season and played a big role in a big win for the Kickers. Luke Mishu and Miguel Aguilar joined the starting eleven as well, and Chris Durkin came on late in the game to earn a valuable few minutes on the pitch during Richmond’s 2-1 victory.
Though they’ve found their stride in the month of July, Richmond faced a tough challenge as they hosted New York Red Bulls II. Coming off their first loss in twelve matches, New York looked to bounce back on the road against a Richmond team they drew with back in May. Going into the game, Red Bulls II were only one point behind conference leaders Louisville City FC with a game in hand. Their dreams of gaining first place were dashed at City Stadium.
Fans got their money’s worth in just the first ten minutes of play. Things started off fast and physical with both teams trading jabs early. The home fans held their breath in the 6th minute when Fred Owusu Sekyere was dispossessed in the midfield and New York’s Anatole Abang sent in a perfect through ball to forward Brandon Allen. Richmond Defender Hugh Roberts tried to pressure but slipped, and Allen found himself one-on-one with the keeper. Out of options, Dykstra went to ground to cut off the shooting lane and barely clipped Allen’s foot. The striker dragged his foot and went down late to draw the foul, and referee Artur Sibiga pointed to the spot and gave a yellow card to Dykstra. Allen stepped up to take the penalty, and to the relief of Richmond fans, blasted it over the bar and out of harm’s way.
The Kickers weren’t out of the woods yet. Just two minutes later, Allen exacted his revenge and redeemed himself. In the Richmond half, a throw-in to Yudai Imura was intercepted and passed to the Red Bulls’ Richmond born midfielder Derrick Etienne. He passed to Allen who teed up his shot and blasted it past Dykstra, putting New York up 1-0.
Richmond answered immediately. Defender Braeden Troyer demonstrated great vision and sent a perfect long ball across the field to Samuel Asante in the Red Bulls’ half. Asante cut in towards goal and nutmegged his way into the penalty area. New York loanee Tyler Adams collided with Asante, and just like that, Richmond had earned their own penalty kick. Imura stepped up and buried his seventh goal of the season, bringing the Kickers level.
Both teams dug in and tempers flared in the 13th minute when New York’s Zachary Carroll received a yellow card for kicking the ball away and delaying a restart. Minutes later, Asante and Tyler Adams got into a shoving match midfield. Both were called over by the referee and warned before play continued. The end of the first half saw Abang send in a dangerous through ball into the Richmond box in front of Etienne, but Dykstra came sliding out and bottled it up before Etienne could make contact.
An on-field marriage proposal (which resulted in a yes) gave Richmond good vibes coming out of the locker room. New York controlled possession at the start of the 2nd half, but the Kickers came roaring back. Following a New York corner, Dykstra sent Richmond on the counterattack as he threw the ball way out to Mike Callahan. The Richmond player-coach found Aguilar up the left side who dribbled all the way to the touch line before cutting the ball back to Sunny Jane in front of goal. It was a bit behind Jane, who took a touch and fired a shot that bounced just wide.
Aguilar was then subbed off for Luiz Fernando who experienced a similar run of play. Much like before, Dykstra collected a New York corner and immediately rolled the ball out to a sprinting Anthony Grant. The Richmond forward passed the ball down the line to Fernando who was wide open up the left side. Like Aguilar, Fernando unselfishly passed the ball back in front of goal. Sunny Jane took another strike, but a great save from keeper Ryan Meara denied Richmond from taking the lead.
Grabbing a point against a serious New York squad would’ve been a positive result for Richmond, but they weren’t finished. Deep into stoppage time, Mishu took a throw-in in New York’s half. A bit of a trick play, he faked the long throw and instead sent it short and back to a wide open Callahan who crossed it into the box. William Yomby contested the keeper and the ball fell to recently subbed-on Jackson Eskay. He took a touch, somehow bypassed all the congestion and blasted in a goal at a tough angle. Eskay, who hasn’t received many minutes so far this season, gained a spot on the roster during a pro tryout last winter after four years playing for the College of William and Mary. The game-winner was his first goal of the season and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
New York didn’t have an opportunity to stage any sort of comeback, and the Kickers delivered them their second loss in a row. Late heroics earned Richmond a tie against the Red Bulls back in May, and late heroics earned them the win Saturday night. The Kickers have looked solid all year, and even during a serious goal drought last month that sunk them down the conference table, the team maintained its spirit and commitment to playing as a unit. Saturday night, they proved their ability to compete at the same level as the best in the USL.
Richmond is on thirty-two points so far this season after rattling off five wins in a row (including a friendly against Swansea City). This Wednesday, they face off against Rochester Rhinos, who they currently share 5th place with in the eastern conference. A quick turn around sees Richmond taking on FC Montreal the following Saturday, August 6.