Richmond had a tough task ahead as they faced top of the table Charleston Battery on the road over the weekend. Still trying to find the solution to their goal-scoring problem, coach Leigh Cowlishaw started Anthony Grant up top for the Kickers. There was a change on the other end of the field as well, as goal keeper Matt Turner sat the bench in favor of newly signed Marcel Debellis.
Charleston prefers to score on the break. They have some of the lowest possession figures in the league, and yet sit atop the eastern conference standings. Saturday proved no different as the Kickers were over the ball for the majority of the match but still fell short.
Yudai Imura sparked a chance for Richmond in the 20th minute when he sent Anthony Grant into the box with a through ball. Collecting it near the touchline, Grant fought off a defender and passed to the top of the box in front of goal, but to no player in particular. Left back Braeden Troyer came sliding in, but Charleston keeper Osisnel Cooper made a hard challenge and sent the ball ricocheting out for a goal kick.
Referee Gustavo Solorio gave Charleston an easy goal four minutes later. Following a long throw in, a Richmond header only went as far as Maikel Chang who headed it directly into the raised arm of Samuel Asante. A penalty was awarded, but it was a harsh call. Asante’s arm was in an unnatural position, but he’d been jumping up to contest the header and was only a yard away from Chang when the ball hit his arm.
Justin Portillo had to score the penalty twice, as his first attempt was called back for encroachment. He didn’t miss either chance. Debellis guessed correctly and dove to his left, but the 2nd shot flew into goal underneath him.
The Kickers failed to create many chances for the first twenty minutes of the 2nd half, so Cowlishaw made two substitutions to try and turn the tide. Sunny Jane and Oliver Minatel came on for Fred Owusu Sekyere and Samuel Asante.
Richmond finally made Charleston nervous in the 76th minute when defender Mallan Roberts collected the ball in the Battery’s half and passed to Paddy McCann. He hadn’t seen the ball much in the match, but he sent a perfect cross to Sunny Jane who sprinted in behind the defense. Uncontested, Jane’s header should have made the difference, but his accuracy was just slightly off. The ball rolled inches past the left goalpost.
Jane had another chance a few minutes later when Troyer crossed into a packed Charleston box in the 81st minute. Jane impressively chested the ball down and volleyed a shot on target, but it was straight at the keeper and saved.
The Kickers nearly scored after a lengthy break in the action as trainers saw to an injured Cooper for Charleston. A corner from Raul Gonzalez bounced around a crowded box as Charleston frantically tried to clear. The ball deflected off Tah-Brian Anunga, bounced off the pitch and up onto the crossbar. Somehow the Battery were able to clear it out.
In stoppage time, Richmond pushed everyone forward, including centerback Mallan Roberts. He found himself on the end of a through ball in the box, but his cross in front of goal was waist high and out of the reach of any Richmond strikers.
Once again, Richmond didn’t play poor soccer but came up short of any points. Bad luck and a few balls and calls that didn’t go their way made the difference. But with a rotating lineup and ever-changing formation, the chemistry in the central midfield that did wonders for the Kickers last year just isn’t there. Wunderkind Yudai Imura hasn’t seen the ball much since returning from injury. The M.O. for the Kickers seems to be play the ball wide, inadvertently cutting the dynamic Japanese midfielder out of the equation.
The work continues as Richmond returns home to face Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday, June 17th, at City Stadium.