It was a chilly, ugly Wednesday morning.
It was a chilly, ugly Wednesday morning. I sipped a thermos of coffee, while still in the throws of the night before – I was still feeling lethargic at 9:30 AM, meanwhile the Richmond Kickers were tearing up Ukrops’ soccer field.
Even from the sidelines you could feel their intensity, as if this practice scrimmage between teammates was a championship game.
Matthew “Deli” Delicâte (pictured below), Kicker’s forward and the club’s all-time leading scorer, said it’s exciting to be back after a long off-season.
“We’ve had quite a few preseason games and, overall, we’re making strides every week so we’re looking forward to the first game.”
The season opener for the Kickers is March 28 in Wilmington, N.C. and the home opener is April 4.
Leigh Cowlishaw (pictured below), Head Coach and Director of Soccer for the Richmond Kickers, said they are trying to continue and improve upon the accomplishments of previous seasons.
“The last two years have been very successful. Undefeated streaks of, I think 22 games or 21 games each year,” Cowlishaw said, “so the big major part of the offseason was to bring back the vast majority of the starting players, which we’ve done. We‘ve also blended in a lot of new rookie players so we’re kind of excited about the depth of the squad this season.”
Some of those new players include Braeden Troyer from South Carolina, Ricky Burke from Scotland and Yudai Imura from Japan.
As a returning player, Delicâte has a hand in welcoming the new players to the team.
“I think the new guys all feel welcome and acclimating well to the style that we play,” Delicâte said. “So it’s always good to have a core group of guys that kind of know the system and how things work to help the new guys kind of fit in.”
Although a well-prepared group, both Cowlishaw and Delicâte know the season is not going to be easy.
“We’ve been playing a lot of college teams in preseason and it’s really not been as challenging as we needed,” Cowlishaw said.
“It’s going to be interesting because the league has changed dramatically this year.”
He said the league has seen a significant boost in the number and quality of its teams.
“A lot of major league soccer teams, second teams have come into the league so the level of playing is going to increase dramatically,” Cowlishaw said.
As for this team, D.C. United will help elevate their level of playing this season for the third year in a row. The Richmond Kickers and D.C. United are continuing their affiliation agreement signed in 2013, which provides a minimum of four first-team players on long-term loans to Richmond.
The first two games of the season will be particularly exciting, Cowlishaw said.
“Both go against new coaches in the league. Typically, when you’re playing teams with new coaches they’re going to be a bit more fired up and have a lot more to prove so it will be certainly a challenging start to the season for us.”
Delicate said despite the lack of stimulating preseason games the squad feels ready.
“Year in and year out the Kickers have been a title contending team and that’s how we feel again,” Delicâte said. “So obviously, we’ve played college teams for the whole of preseason so it’s always tough to know how we’re going to fare in our first couple of games. But I think we feel confident and we plan on winning every game that we go into this year.”
Cowlishaw said the Kickers want to strengthen the Red Army, fan club for the team, and make themselves a pride of Richmond.
“We continue to grow that real average soccer fan. The atmosphere has been fantastic. Best soccer in years and we’re just looking to really build upon that soccer atmosphere and make Kickers games a really important part of Richmond.”
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