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Richmond Kickers fall on the road, but Miguel Aguilar makes an impact

Bethlehem Steel FC found their identity Sunday at the expense of the Kickers

Bethlehem Steel FC delivered the Richmond Kickers their first loss on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Pennsylvania. Lehigh University's football stadium is the home of the Philadelphia Union's USL expansion team, which going into the game had a record of 1-2-0. Steel Coach Brendan Burke is familiar with the attacking force of the Kickers, having coached Jason Yeisley and Brian Ownby at Reading United FC. The Steel suffered a 4-0 defeat at the hands of New York Red Bulls II last week after allowing two goals in the first five minutes of play. Sunday, they were out to redeem themselves.

Richmond's starting lineup included Miguel Aguilar, a D.C. United loanee responsible for corners during the game. Striker Luiz Fernando sat the bench along with Richmond veteran forward Matthew Delicate.

Steel FC attacked in force early in the game. Richmond keeper Ryan Taylor was under a barrage of corner kicks and set pieces. On the other end of the field, Mike Callahan's set piece in the 17th minute resulted in a speedy Bethlehem counterattack. Eric Ayuk sent in a perfect cross to Seku Conneh, but an acrobatic save by Taylor stopped Steel from going up. The stalemate wouldn't last. A long ball from goalie John McCarthy was collected by midfielder Cole Missimo, who teed up Ayuk just outside the penalty area. Ayuk's shot deflected off defender William Yomby and past a prostrate Ryan Taylor, taking the Steel up 1-0.

Kickers midfielder Lucas Paulini, a big signing this year after spending four years in the NASL, took the brunt of a tough challenge from forward Gabe Gissie. Paulini was subbed in the 37th minute for Fernando, the first indication of Coach Leigh Cowlishaw's intent to push forward and find the equalizer.

Just after the half, a Kickers error would double Bethlehem's lead. After an offside call, Yomby opted for a short pass to Callahan. The midfielder briefly bobbled the ball, and again Eric Ayuk made a big impact for the Steel. He took possession and laid the ball off to Derrick Jones who fired a shot to the left side of goal, making it 2-0.

Just four minutes later Richmond would cut Bethlehem's lead in half. Once again, Yudai Imura came through big. A corner from Aguilar was headed to the top of the penalty area where Imura fired a volley, his shot bouncing off the left post and over the line.

Cowlishaw then threw everything he had at the Steel FC back line, playing a game of chess with Brendan Burke. Richmond used all five subs at their disposal, bringing in Fred Owusu Sekyere, Matthew Delicate, Sunny Jane and player/assistant coach Sascha Gorres in the final twenty minutes. Steel FC absorbed the pressure, and the Kickers weren't able to find an answer. Bethlehem played their lead well, and consistently frustrated all efforts by the Kickers to break down their defense. A shot by Travis Pittman in stoppage time appeared to be deflected by a Bethlehem hand in the penalty area, but no call was given. Delicate made his opinions known to referee Guido Gonzales, Jr. to no avail.

Originally, the Kickers planned for Jalen Robinson to travel with the team for the match, but this decision was changed. Coach Ben Olsen recently stated that United will likely not loan any players to the Kickers permanently this season, and that assignments will change throughout the year. Aguilar will probably travel with the Kickers this weekend, and Robinson is still a possibility as well.

The Kickers’ road trip continues this Friday when they visit Charlotte Independence at the Ramblewood Sports Complex. It could prove to be a tough task, as Charlotte is coming off a 3-2 win over the always consistent Charleston Battery.