Richmond Kickers defeat 2015 USL champs Rochester Rhinos

It happened!

kickers3.9_crowd_lovingPhoto by James H Loving

Update #1 — April 11, 2016; 3:01 PM

It was cold. It was windy. Objectively, it really wasn’t a pleasant day in Richmond. And yet, at 7:00 PM, everyone at City Stadium would tell you it had been a great day. Through the conditions that had a noticeable effect on the game, the Kickers found their goal and took home all three points against the defending champion Rochester Rhinos by a score of 1-0. Yudai Imura’s goal in the 60th minute was the difference-maker, and Ryan Taylor added a couple of critical saves to preserve the win and the clean sheet.

Leigh Cowlishaw made two changes to the team that drew at Wilmington. Brian Ownby returned to the lineup, replacing Michael Callahan, and in turn shifting Samuel Asante back into his more traditional defensive midfield position. Travis Pittman, who must have just signed this week after being with the team through the preseason, was chosen at right back in place of Alex Lee. Third-hand word suggests that Lee was held out due to precautionary measures, but would have been able to play if necessary.

Chances were few and far between in the first half–which, when you consider the players adjusting to the conditions, feeling each other out, and just the general nature of a Rochester/Richmond game, isn’t too terribly surprising. It’s been since April 2013, a span of six games now, since a team in this fixture scored more than one goal (the Kickers won that day 4-1 against what would become the worst Rochester team of all time). Richmond had a couple of shouts for penalties in the half that went uncalled. Jason Yeisley was chasing down a through ball early in the match and got a little shove in the back from a Rochester defender, but already being a little off-balanced, he was never going to get that call.

Late in the half, Brian Ownby floated a cross through the six-yard area that Luiz Fernando attacked. He might have been able to get something on target if he hadn’t been undercut. If that happens at midfield, it’s a foul every single time. Alas, no whistle here.

Rochester had one good chance in the first half. They were able to break down the left flank in the first quarter of an hour, connecting a few quick passes to break down the midfield and defense. From a wide position about six yards from the endline, a half-shot, half-cross ball was whipped across, but Ryan Taylor was able to parry it away and eliminate any danger at hand.

The Rhinos had the first two good chances in the second half. Asani Samuels was able to shoot across the face of goal in the 47th minute, and a late runner for Rochester was just a second late to be able to tap in at the far post. Then, in the 56th minute, Kenardo Forbes found a yard of space at the top of the penalty area and unleashed a shot that forced Taylor to tip over the bar for a corner.

The next chance in the game went the Kickers way, though, and they capitalized upon it. After a foul near midfield, Travis Pittman launched a long free kick to the top of the penalty area. Jason Yeisley and Sean Totsch (I think) were battling for position, and Rochester goalkeeper Adam Grinwis came to collect the ball from the air. Unfortunately for Rochester, the ball, Grinwis, and Totsch’s head all converging at the same moment. Needless to say, the ball popped loose, and Yudai Imura was the first to react, slotting it into the net guarded only by right back Jordan McCrary. It was Imura’s second goal of the season, both coming courtesy of defensive errors at the top of the penalty area.

Rochester had the majority of possession the rest of the way, but only looked like they might score once. After working the ball up their left attacking channel, a pass found midfielder Marcos Ugarte at the corner of the six yard box. He was able to open his hips up despite the presence of two Kickers defenders, but slid his shot wide of the far post. After that point, Rochester still held the ball plenty, but they never truly threatened again.


Various thoughts from the match:

  • Travis Pittman performed well for his first match with the team. He played center back during the preseason, but didn’t look out of place at right back. He stayed at home quite a bit, especially compared to what Kickers fans have become accustomed to with the way Alex Lee plays, but all in all a very strong debut.
  • The combination of William Yomby and Hugh Roberts has taken a step forward. The two big defenders seem to have reached that place where they are fully comfortable with one another, and can predict how the other will act in situations. Almost every good team ever has a reliable combination at those spots, and this looks to be one of the better combinations the Kickers have had.
  • Lucas Paulini is everywhere. It really feels like anytime there is a loose ball in the midfield, he is right there to contest it. He’s been a welcome addition to the midfield this season.
  • For the second consecutive week, no DC United players were present in the Kickers 18. Not a one of the players announced as being loaned, or even rumored to be additional loanees, were in the United team, so beyond the known injuries to Martin and Horton, I’m not sure what’s going on. Thankfully the team is in good shape and has some quality depth anyway, but it’s starting to look like we shouldn’t count on anyone being available for the foreseeable future.
  • Sawyer Gaffney was not the reserve goalkeeper last night. Instead, Kickers legend Ronnie Pascale was listed as the backup. Not that anyone wants anything to happen to Ryan Taylor, but that would have been a fun consolation.

The Kickers are now in first place with seven points and a +3 goal differential. They will travel next weekend to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for the first ever game against the expansion Steel. Kickoff is set for 3:00 PM on Sunday the 17th.

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Original — April 08, 2016

Coming into this game, the Kickers sit in second place in the East, behind only the New York Red Bulls II on the goals scored tiebreaker. Rochester is currently fifth, although they’ve only played one game thus far–as opposed to the two games the majority of the league has played. The Rhinos won the league last year in dominating fashion, losing only a single game and conceding 15 goals over a 28-game schedule, 13 better than the next stingiest defense.

Under coach Bob Lilley, you can expect to see a continuation of this approach even though there’s been significant turnover on the Rhinos’ roster this offseason. Lilley’s teams always play a more conservative style, ensuring that you will have to beat them rather than them gifting a result to you. Despite their strong season last year, the Rhinos never actually beat Richmond and needed a last gasp save off a George Davis shot to preserve a draw in September. The Kickers are on a six game unbeaten run against Rochester overall dating back to June 2012.

Last week, the Kickers played Wilmington to a 0-0 tie on the road. For his efforts on defense in the game (helping limit the Hammerheads to only two shots), Hugh Roberts was named to the USL Team of the Week. The game also featured the Kickers debut of Sunny Jane, who came on as a late substitute after returning from international duty during the week. Look for both of these players to make a big impact this week as well.

What to Expect

Leigh Cowlishaw has been showing a more attacking style of play this year, often pushing his fullbacks up the field and having two attacking players flanking Jason Yeisley up front. A pairing of Lucas Paulini and Michael Callahan has held down the middle of the field to-date, giving their teammates increased freedom to attack. Richmond will look to pin the Rochester defense deep in their own end early, trying to deny service to attacking players like Christian Volesky and Kenardo Forbes.

Rochester is still developing their roster and needed a late loan from New England to help fill their bench last week. The team has continued to add players this week, but it does take time at any level to develop chemistry, so caution may very likely be the first train of thought for the visitors. The one element of continuity that Rochester does have is in the attack, where they possess a number of players with quick strike potential. Expect the team to play for the counterattack on Saturday and try to take advantage of the Kickers getting pulled too far into attack.


The Kickers are probably catching Rochester at about as good a time as is possible. These games are never easy and never have been, even going back to the late 90s. That said, it feels like a 1-0 victory is on the horizon for the good guys in red. Come out, enjoy some beer, music, and hometown soccer, and walk away satisfied with three points and surely all kinds of souvenirs from the festival.

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Matt Myers

Matt is coming to grips with being a relatively old man now after seeing the youngsters in the Red Army and on the Kickers roster.

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