USL starts play this weekend, and for the fourth year in a row D.C. United will be sending players to the Richmond Kickers. This affiliation has helped players like Travis Worra, Taylor Kemp, Jalen Robinson, Collin Martin, and plenty more get valuable playing time and prepare to challenge for the United first team. This season, Paul Clowes, Jalen Robinson, and Collin Martin are the initial set of loanees to the Kickers, with more to come later. Here's the story about this season for the Kickers:
Year founded: 1993 (tied for the oldest professional team in the US)
Affiliation: The Richmond Kickers have continued their affiliation with D.C. United; the current agreement runs through the 2017 season
2015 record: 10-7-11, 6th in the Eastern Conference
2015 playoffs: Lost to the Charleston Battery in the first round, 2-1 after extra time
Key additions: Sunny Jane, forward, from the Wilmington Hammerheads; Lucas Paulini, midfielder, formerly of Atlanta Silverbacks; Romulo Peretta and Luiz Fernando Nascimento, forwards, from AA Flamengo
Key departures: George Davis IV, forward, to Louisville City
Projected/ideal starting XI: Ryan Taylor; Alex Lee, William Yomby, Jalen Robinson, Braeden Troyer; Paul Clowes, Mike Callahan; Brian Ownby, Collin Martin, Sunny Jane; Jason Yeisley
Overview of team heading into season: The Richmond Kickers are one of the old guard of USL, sharing the title of oldest professional team in the United States with their long-time rivals, the Charleston Battery. They are also one of the most successful teams in USL historically, and the fact that they were the last team in the Eastern Conference to get into the playoffs chafes; they will be looking to get back into the top tier of the league and show all these newcomers their place.
Defense has long been the bedrock of the team, and will be key again this year with captain William Yomby as the anchor. The team will look to the additions from United to help spark the attack and to feed Jason Yeisley, who has gotten better each season and scored 13 goals last year.
Why you should watch the Richmond Kickers in 2016: Besides watching D.C. United loanees in action, the Richmond Kickers are an independent team with a long and successful history, including the US Open Cup in 1995, 5 regular season titles, and three playoff championships. The have not missed the playoffs since 2003, and so greatness is expected (and usually delivered). The team also plays exciting soccer, so they're pretty to watch as well.
3 Players to watch: Jason Yeisley scored 13 goals last season, and looks to score even more this year and he takes over fully for Kickers all-time leading scorer Matthew Delicate. William Yomby is the captain of the team and the rock of the defense; for the Kickers to have a good season, he must be as good as he has been the past few years. And Brian Ownby, recently on trial with the Colorado Rapids, can help Yeisley and score himself; if matches his 2013 heights, he can make this team great.
The 2016 season will be a success if…the offense gets clicking. After sputtering at times last year, Richmond has made a number of changes in the offseason to address the issue. With an always-solid defense, an improved offense could vault this team back into contention for the regular season and playoff championships.