It all starts tomorrow!
Player headshots courtesy of Richmond Kickers/James Loving Photography.
Update #1 — March 28, 2016; 1:50 PM
Victory is ours
Saturday brought about the start of the 2016 season, and the Kickers showed that they were absolutely ready. Goals from Michael Callahan, Jason Yeisley, and Yudai Imura put the game out of reach fairly early, and although Jose Barril did respond for Harrisburg, the Kickers held on for a pretty comfortable 3-1 win. Simply put, the Kickers were a class above the City Islanders, and it was evident from the first few minutes that all three points were inevitable.
The attacking trio of Jason Yeisley, Yudai Imura, and Brian Ownby caused constant trouble for the Harrisburg defense. Combined with Samuel Asante, these four constantly rotated and attacked primarily the outside backs and frequently found space in which to work. Ownby in particular produced down the left side, and ultimately produced the assist on Callahan’s opener. After beating a defender to the endline, he laid the ball across the six yard box, where the captain was there to knock the ball over Nick Noble’s shoulder at the near post. Callahan is always good for a goal a year, but hopefully this isn’t him capping out his scoring total early this season.
The second goal had many similar elements to the first. Imura and Ownby worked together through the center-left channel, and after a challenge from a Harrisburg defender, the ball came to Imura near the top left corner of the penalty area. Imura had all the time in the world, and found a smart run from Yeisley at the far post. Last season’s top scorer would have been hard-pressed to miss, and made the simple tap in for a 2-0 lead.
Before halftime, Imura nearly made it 3-0 on what would have been a highlight reel goal. He received a flighted pass about 25 yards from goal, and had a great first touch to play himself around a defender while also killing the ball. He broke across the top of the penalty area and, after a few touches, unleashed a shot that went just high over the right corner.
After the whistle, Imura did get his goal.
Harrisburg’s defender (midfielder?) misplayed a back pass that Imura intercepted about 25 yards from goal. He quickly touched the ball around Shane Johnson and then rolled the ball by Noble for the third goal of the game. It was an individual effort that required a good level of patience and skill to perfectly execute.
Unfortunately, Harrisburg did score. Paul Wilson received the ball along his right flank and bolted past Braeden Troyer. He rolled a cross back to the top of the penalty area, where Jose Barril beat Ryan Taylor to his right. A few different guys could have done better in this scenario, especially as Barril was wide open to finish.
Other than the goals, the Kickers also did a good job most of the game in possession. Lucas Paulini helped control the flow of the game, and the entire backline frequently got involved in keeping the ball. Things got a little sloppy in the second half as fatigue–and likely complacency–set in. Overall though, it never felt like Harrisburg was going to come back, and the Kickers should feel good about starting the season strongly and banking an early three points.
Other thoughts from the game
- Lucas Paulini made a strong impression in his Kickers debut, and Luiz Fernando and Paul Clowes also made their first appearances for the team. Each showed well and should get stronger as they adjust to the professional game.
- Alex Lee started at right back. This wouldn’t be a big deal if he didn’t play Thursday afternoon in Oman. Based on intensive internet research, it’s about a 24 hour trip from Muscat to Dulles, since it appears to not be a high demand route and there is always at least one layover. The man deserves a nice day or two of rest after that.
- There seemed to be some communication issues between Ryan Taylor and his central defenders. On multiple occasions, it looked like each party expected the other to do the opposite of what was actually done. That needs to get fixed up before the opposition level starts to rise.
- The new jerseys looked better than I expected. Hopefully they have extra Ownby jerseys on hand, since his was torn within the first 45 minutes.
All in all, you can’t argue with getting a win at home to start the season. Next up is an away game on Friday at Wilmington, who beat Orlando B 2-1 away in their opener.
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Original — March 25, 2016
This Saturday at 5:00 PM (note that the start time is not the usual 7:00 PM kickoff), the Kickers open their 24th season at home against the Harrisburg City Islanders. The team has been together in camp for a month, and they’re surely ready to get to the games that actually count.
The preseason schedule saw Richmond go 3-2-1, topped by victories over the Carolina Railhawks and the University of Virginia. Leigh Cowlishaw and the coaching staff used the games as a combination of conditioning, team building, and evaluation of players fighting for a roster spot. Now that the team is close to finalized (there’s always room for adjustment as the season progresses after all), roles will begin to be more clearly defined, and we the fans will have a clearer view of how the 2016 Kickers will approach the season.
The fourth-year keeper is the only professional goalkeeper currently on the roster, and he’ll have to continue to improve as he has over the last few seasons for this team to meet its lofty goals. His leadership and vocal organization in the back will be a key indicator of success against a team that scored six goals against the Kickers in three games last season. If Taylor can control the crosses coming in from the wings, you can count on the Kickers’ chances of victory increasing significantly.
Brian Ownby has returned to the Kickers after training in preseason with the Colorado Rapids, and fans will immediately be able to see why he was in a MLS camp. The midfielder/forward is the creative hub for this team, and having returned from a shoulder injury suffered in June, he looks ready to contribute and fill the statsheet in 2016. Look for him to run at defenders and cause significant problems for the City Islanders’ backline throughout the game.
Last season’s leading scorer and second team All-USL forward is back for his fifth season in Richmond. Jason Yeisley will be counted on to be the primary source of goals once again this season, and based on the preseason, he is more than ready and capable to carry that burden on his shoulders. A physical yet very agile big man, Yeisley will be seen going shoulder to shoulder with Harrisburg’s centerbacks throughout the game, while looking to sneak behind them to get on the end of a through ball from Ownby or other Kickers.
Look for the Kickers to come out in a 4-4-2 formation, a longtime favorite of Leigh Cowlishaw. Ryan Taylor will certainly start in goal, with the backline consisting of Braeden Troyer, William Yomby, Hugh Roberts, and Jalen Robinson. The midfield is a little more up in the air, but I would venture to guess that Michael Callahan and Paul Clowes will hold down the middle, while Brian Ownby and Yudai Imura provide attacking support from wide positions. Collin Martin is likely to start as an advanced midfielder/support striker, with Jason Yeisley leading the line up front.
Expect to see fresh faces off the bench in this game as well. Luiz Fernando and Lucas Paulini seem certain to make their Kickers debuts, and veterans Samuel Asante and Owusu Sekyere will help tighten the midfield late in the game. And as is a Richmond tradition, Matthew Delicate will be available to throw his body around and get on the end of long balls and crosses as time winds down.
Sunny Jane will be playing with Lesotho on Saturday, and will therefore not be available for selection. His Kickers debut will come at the earliest next weekend at Wilmington, but perhaps more likely the following week at City Stadium against Rochester. Alex Lee is with the Guam national team for a Thursday game at Oman, so its conceivable he could return by Saturday evening, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Getting to Know Harrisburg
The City Islanders are longtime rivals of the Kickers, having formed in 2004 and first facing off in 2006. Harrisburg narrowly missed the playoffs last year, and played Richmond to a 1-1-1 record across three games in 2015. They have announced a roster with only 18 players, so either there are potentially more signings to come before kickoff, or they will be going with a team that picks itself. Nine players return from last season, so this is a team that is still getting to know one another and their tendencies.
Harrisburg struggled through the preseason, failing to score a goal in five games and only managing a single scoreless draw in their opener against Penn State. Former Kickers defender Shane Johnson is back with the City Islanders once again, and goalkeeper Nick Noble will be another familiar face to longtime fans. Harrisburg’s marquee offseason signing was Bobby Warshaw, a midfielder who has spent the last few years playing professionally in Norway and Sweden. If they are to be dangerous, expect Craig Foster to be on the end of the chances, as the Jamaican showed a nose for goal after joining halfway through last season.
Making predictions for the first game of any season is never easy, as preseason results can only tell you so much. That being said, this lines up to be a fairly convincing win for Richmond. Returning the majority of the roster will prove to benefit the team, and getting Harrisburg so early on the schedule will only help, as that is a team that traditionally starts slow and rounds in to form as the summer months approach. Look for a 3-0 victory for the local team as the road to the 2016 USL Championship begins.