The Richmond Kickers – USL Pro Regular Season Champions
The Richmond Kickers clenched the 2013 Regular Season Title and home field advantage throughout the playoffs Wednesday night with a 2-0 win over Orlando City. Despite entering the match as the two-time defending regular season champions of USL Pro and sporting the league’s most prolific offense, Orlando City had no answer for Richmond’s league-leading defense in front of the boisterous crowd of City Stadium. With another shutout, the Kickers have only allowed 23 goals in 25 matches.
Richmond played its most complete match of the season. The offense appeared crisp in the first half, sending attempt after attempt into the box. The Orlando City goalie managed to repulse a few early attacks, before succumbing to the pressure. Kickers’ all-time leading scorer, Matthew Delicate poked in a loose ball in the 24th minute and added a rocket strike off a perfect cross in the 27th. The Kickers wouldn’t need more than that.
After signing late and recovering from a groin injury earlier in the season, Delicate has regained much of his old form. He carries the confidence and momentum of four goals in the last two matches into the playoffs.
The wingers also impressed in the first half. Brian Ownby and Nate Robinson made numerous runs down the flanks and placed a bevy of opportunities into the box. Orlando City had no answer for the two men. To keep Orlando further off balance, Head Coach Leigh Colishaw gave Ownby and Robinson the freedom to switch flanks often, providing new looks and chances in the process.
The defense stepped forward in the second half as Richmond tried to preserve its lead and Orlando furiously threw everything they had at goal. Andrew Dykstra stoned any attempt on goal, seemingly possessed by a vengeful goalie spirit. He made save after save and drew the continued admiration of the home crowd. I can’t imagine a hotter goalie than the DC United loan as the playoffs approach.
Dykstra had help. All league center back William Yomby shut down any number of Orlando City attacks into the box. He remained unbeatable from start to finish. He anchors a back line that has landed among the league elite for the last few years. Team leader and defensive midfielder Michael Callahan also got in on the action. He blocked a sure goal from point blank range to secure the clean sheet.
Orlando City did have one sure chance. After a certain dive in the box – at least from the point of view of the nearby Red Army – the referee awarded Orlando City a penalty kick. However, the taker skied his attempt over the bar drawing shouts of “Ball don’t lie” and chants of “You let the whole team down” from the Kickers’ supporters.
The Red Army made significant strides in the four days between the Orlando City match and the Dayton match. Their numbers swelled and the fans looked particularly dapper in the free Red Army t-shirts provided by the Kickers’ organization. The chants felt more cohesive and louder. The Red Army has begun to find a few favorite chants that it can fall back on during the lulls. The Kickers appear to have a real supporters group. Coaches, fans, and players alike appreciate their contribution. The most telling indicator of the Red Army’s growing popularity: fans moved to the section during the course of the match. I noticed a father with his two sons, all sporting vuvuzelas, and a pair of twenty-something men drawn to raucous Section O.
Unfortunately, the Red Army has come under scrutiny following allegations of racial abuse. Orlando City Reserve Kevin Ellis complained to Colishaw following halftime, accusing the Red Army of insulting his race and his mother. The Red Army denies any such discrimination.
I sat about seven or eight rows back from the Red Army supporters in question during the altercation. At City Stadium, the fans sit right on top of the players. Ellis and a reserve goalie passed a ball back and forth on the field in hopes of inclusion into the match during the second half. They stood maybe ten yards from the wall where the fans sat.
The Red Army fans began heckling the two players. I could not hear what they said. However, a short time later Ellis shouted at the fans, threatening a physical attack, potentially murder. I found his retort classless and reprehensible. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, Ellis is not completely innocent.
Following Ellis’s outburst, the entire Red Army took up the task of heckling Ellis, but they only commented on his reserve status, indicating that he would start if he had any talent. Not knowing the racial aspect to the story, I simply assumed the supporters group had managed to get under the skin of a hotheaded player.
After halftime, following Ellis’s accusation, Richmond Kickers intern and Red Army liaison RP Kirtland came down to the section and passionately declared that the Kickers would not tolerate any form of racism, sexism, homophobia, or discrimination of any kind. I fully support this stance from the Kickers front office. We want to import the passion of the European football fan, but we can leave their ignorant phobias on the other side of the pond.
In the nature of full disclosure, I did hear one obviously drunk fan in the Red Army try to start a “Monkey” chant during the Dayton game the Saturday prior to the Orlando match. European fans have used the chant as an insult towards players of African descent. This is unacceptable. However, his chant quickly died out when no one else in the red army would support it. Strangely enough, this same fan tried to start a “F*** Chick-Fil-A for hatin’ on the gays” chant during halftime of the Dayton match in response to the mascot soccer game.
Despite the actions of this one fan, I heard zero instances of discrimination, racial or otherwise, at any time during the Orlando match in question.
The actions of a few fans do not represent the Red Army as a whole. While discussing the situation with another Kickers season pass holder, she suggested that the personalities most likely attracted to shouting and chanting at football matches, those outgoing early adopters of a more energetic fan culture, likely also have a tendency towards obnoxiousness, a lack of filter between brain and mouth. As the supporters group grows these fans get drowned out by the more respectful, but no less energetic, desires of the whole. A larger, more structured Red Army will pull these wayward soldiers into line.
Following the match, Kevin Ellis tweeted about the incident, but deleted the tweets soon after. One tweet was saved on a Red Army message board:
@Kev_Ellis4: Richmond your fans are trash sayin racial comments and talkin about my mom who died 2 years ago is as low as you can get #congrats @USLPRO
Kickers fans responded to what they perceived as false allegations.
@rvagooner: @Kev_Ellis4 @USLPRO I didn’t hear anything racist. I saw you come over to a fan, point your finger in his face and say “I’ll f**ck you up!”
@britinva: @Kev_Ellis4 @USLPRO 1) Don’t assume we know your personal history. We don’t. Mom jokes are an easy (if unoriginal) way to get at players.
@britinva: @Kev_Ellis4 @USLPRO 2) What was racist? We did speak down to you because you were a sub rather than a starter, but nothing was about race.
@britinva: @Kev_Ellis4 @USLPRO That said, sorry the Mom comments caused you pain. And whatever you heard as racist certainly wasn’t intended that way.
I imagine the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The Red Army likely poked a nerve, innocently and without any intent to discriminate, that made Ellis feel particularly uncomfortable given his race and family history. He lashed out in response. I hope that Ellis, the Red Army, and the USL can reach a peaceful resolution without soiling the reputation of any and avoid any such repeats of this incident in the future.
Last saturday, Richmond drew 1-1 at Pittsburgh to conclude the regular season. The Richmond Kickers host the Dayton Dutch Lions this Saturday, August 24th, at 7 PM in City Stadium to begin their journey in the 2013 USL Pro Playoffs.