A late penalty made things interesting as the Richmond Kickers faced off with FC Montreal Saturday afternoon, but the Kickers weren’t about to let a controversial call in the box end their winning streak. A close and exciting match marked with strange events - a disappearing dugout, fire alarms in the stadium and two goals in the last nine minutes - saw Richmond win 2-1, a sixth straight victory.
With their third game in a week, Richmond opened the match with a young, attacking lineup. Luke Mishu and Chris Durkin joined the back line, and Matt Turner of the New England Revolution started in goal for the second game in a row. Luiz Fernando and Jackson Eskay started up top for the Kickers along with Sunny Jane. Yudai Imura, who scored five goals in the previous four games, backed them up in central midfield. Fernando, who’s embraced the role of impact sub this season, made the most of his start by tallying a goal and an assist.
Though Montreal has an abysmal record, one of their only two wins came against Richmond at City Stadium back in May. The 2-1 defeat was Richmond’s only loss at home this season. May feels like ancient history to the Kickers, and they weren’t timid in their attack early on. Mishu and Braeden Troyer joined in throughout the match, often pushing up the flanks to offer support. Eskay kicked things off in the 5th minute when he sent in an accurate cross to Imura which was headed just wide.
Montreal’s first legitimate chance came in the 19th minute when a chip over the top was controlled by Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla in the box. Hugh Roberts and Mishu closed off the space, but Tabla was still able to get a shot off that narrowly missed goal. Five minutes later on a counterattack, Tabla again had a chance but put the ball in the side netting. Richmond answered when Luiz Fernando dribbled to the Montreal touchline and cut a pass back to a sprinting Sunny Jane. Jane was able to get his boot to the ball but couldn’t direct his shot on target.
Richmond’s best chance of the first half came in the 38th minute when a blocked Jane shot fell to Fernando on the left side. He drew out Montreal’s keeper Maxime Crepeau and knocked a perfect pass to Jane in front of a wide open goal. Only needing to tap the ball in, Jane somehow managed to sky his shot over the crossbar, an attempt that could go down as one of the worst misses of the season.
In a bizarre series of events, a huge gust of wind toppled the FC Montreal team dugout and sent it sailing backwards, briefly stopping the match. After play resumed, Richmond was disappointed to enter the locker room 0-0, failing to take advantage of several golden opportunities.
Montreal made three substitutions at the half which really added a spark to their attacking play. The momentum shifted after the break and Montreal was on the front foot for the first twenty minutes. Their best chance came when defender Zachary Sukunda raced down the right side and received a pass from Tabla. Sukunda sent in a perfect cross in front of goal to Heikel Jarras, whose header was placed on target and only denied because of a class save from Turner. The Richmond goalie had to reverse his momentum and reach backward to get one hand on the ball and deflect it out of harm’s way.
In the 60th minute Jarras and Turner faced off again one-on-one. Directly in front of the net at close range, a seemingly sure goal from Jarras was blocked by Turner, and Turner had to quickly bottle up a second shot off the rebound. Not wanting to fall to Montreal a second time this season, Richmond made changes to shore up its defense and add pace to the field. Unable to find his form, Sunny Jane was subbed off in the 61st for Scott Thomsen. Recently signed by the Kickers, Thomsen was a standout at the University of Virginia and is known for his defensive midfield prowess.
Though it was a defensive-minded change, Thomsen immediately made an impact which led to a Richmond goal. He made a determined run up the left sideline and a give-and-go with Eskay sprung Thomsen towards goal. Fernando kept pace with the play up the right side, and Thomsen sent a perfect pass to the Brazilian striker. Fernando’s initial shot was blocked by Crepeau, but the backspin of the ball sent it rolling towards the open net and Fernando hammered it home, securing his first goal of the season.
Things remained quiet until the last five minutes of regular time when Montreal received a questionable penalty kick. Tabla had passed the ball into the Richmond box to an open Alessandro Riggi, and like last week, defender Hugh Roberts attempted to cut off the shooting lane but was victim of a theatrical dive. Before Roberts made a play, Riggi went to ground and referee Chris Grabas pointed to the spot. The resulting penalty kick by Riggi put Montreal level with Richmond. Fire alarms in the Complexe Sportif Claude-Robillard marked the occasion, as flares lit by the Montreal ultras set off sirens around the stadium (but didn’t endanger the crowd).
With only a few minutes left, the Kickers quickly switched their mentality from defense to offense. Montreal, however, rested on their laurels and left themselves vulnerable to attack. In the 88th minute, Mike Callahan carved an accurate through ball to Fernando who again drew out the Montreal keeper. Somehow the always dangerous Yudai Imura was unmarked in the box, and Fernando sent in a pass which the Japanese prodigy easily thumped into the net. His goal secured Richmond their sixth league win in a row.
Their six-game win streak is Richmond’s best since 2011, and they have a realistic shot of finishing top four in the eastern conference and securing a home playoff game. Tough tasks lay ahead, however, as Richmond return home to face fellow top four contenders FC Cincinnati Saturday, August 13, and Charleston Battery the following week.