Cold temperatures didn't slow the action at City Stadium as the Richmond Kickers faced off with 2015 USL Champions Rochester Rhinos. A bundled up crowd of 5,000 looked on as the two perennial conference favorites traded jabs. The Rhinos only allowed 15 goals during last year’s regular season, and it showed during the first 45 minutes. Stout defenses and wind gusts played havoc with the ball, making it difficult for the teams to connect, and precious few chances in front of goal.
The game held speed, with both teams physical and exchanging blows. In the 8th minute, Jason Yeisley was brought down in the Rochester penalty area, resulting in a controversial no call. The same occurred in the 23rd minute when Samuel Asante blew past two Rochester players, fed a through ball to Brian Ownby, whose cross in front of goal was wasted when Luis Fernando was pulled down in the box. No call was given, to the ire of the Richmond fans.
Ownby went down hard in the 27th minute, a worrying sign for the Kickers. The wind stalled a Rochester goal kick, and Ownby and Rhino #4 Sean Totsch competed for an awkward header. Ownby crashed violently to the pitch head first, but was able to shake it off and finish out the match. The Richmond native was out for the majority of 2015 with injury and the Kickers didn't look the same on the field without him.
The stalemate was broken by a Rochester error in the 62nd minute. Ambition got the best of keeper Adam Grinwis, who attempted to collect a lofty pass way outside of goal. He collided with his own player, opening the door for Yudai Imura. The standout midfielder from Bunkyo, Japan, took full advantage, volleying the shot home. It was Imura’s second goal of the season, solidifying him as a fan favorite and critical member of the starting 11.
As a result, Richmond dropped back and absorbed pressure from the Rhinos, who fought hard to try and equalize. Rochester looked dangerous in the 76th minute when #2 Marcos Ugarte collected a poor Richmond clearance in the penalty area and fired a shot just wide of the far post. Subs were brought on to pick up the pace, and another promising Rochester shot on goal was deflected away by the Kickers. Brian Ownby dropped back in defense, leaving Jason Yeisley as the lone attacking force. Fans groaned as two minutes of stoppage time saw a Rochester corner, but Richmond successfully held on to their lead.
D.C. United loans Paul Clowes and Jalen Robinson didn't see any playing time this week, but that could change with the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament looming. The Kickers now sit atop the Eastern Conference with long-time rivals Charleston Battery. They'll have to defend their lead on the road, with two away matches in the coming weeks. The Kickers return to City Stadium April 30th to face Toronto FC II.