Lying somewhere near the intersection of having no expectations and wanting to win it all, the prospects for the Richmond Kickers’ upcoming season differed depending on who was asked Thursday as the Kickers hosted media day at City Stadium.
To join a league in its first year of existence as the Kickers will do for this season with the USL’s newly minted League One, the questions at current time outweigh the available answers as the American soccer pyramid shuffles once more.
With the United Soccer League (USL) expanding into three separate divisions following the 2018 season, the USL Championship, USL League One and USL League Two were formed, and only the Championship and League Two existed previously as the second division and the fourth-tier amateur level, respectively.
But even as the Kickers continue to inch toward new horizons for their March 30 opener in a third division of American soccer that didn’t exist last season, members of Richmond’s setup didn’t hide their excitement as the season looms.
“Everybody’s really excited, but there’s so much unknown. Nobody really knows what to expect,” Kickers coach David Bulow said of USL League One.
“It’s almost impossible to tell what it’s going to look like. I’ve said to multiple people I don’t know if it’s going to be closer to League Two or the Championship. It’s almost impossible to tell right now. My strategy has always been to put together a team that could compete in the Championship, and I think we’ve done that.
“It puts a little bit of pressure on us to do well, but we’re here to compete and win a championship.”
Building off the bedrock of defenders Scott Thomsen, Braeden Troyer, Conor Shanosky and midfielder Matt Bolduc — the only four holdovers currently signed from last season’s squad, Bulow, along with Kickers president and general manager Matt Spear, have put together a team from scratch, a process Bulow said he has enjoyed after inheriting a beleaguered bunch after Leigh Cowlishaw resigned from his coaching post midseason.
Spear underlined the importance of Bulow having “his own guys” as he continues his progression as coach of the Kickers past his first season, saying Bulow has a different set of managing skills and tactics than those of Cowlishaw. The result of the build, with 11 players officially signed as of Feb. 20, has impressed Spear.
“We are very impressed with the talent we are bringing in, just about everybody on the team has USL Championship experience,” Spear said.
“I’m also really appreciative of the coaching staff that they are focused not just on the soccer product, but they’re building a good spirit and karma in the team, and to me, ultimately, I’m a little bit of a believer that the will to win over the skill to win is going to play out in a long season like a USL season.”
Now, with the Kickers slated to start their 27th season in a 10-team league that houses only two clubs that played professionally in 2018 — the Kickers and Toronto FC II — the expectation now is to win, the polar opposite of what transgressed over the course of the past two seasons, and a fact that Shanosky openly acknowledged.
“Being in this league, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard,” he said.
“We need to have loftier goals. Towards the end of things the last couple years in the USL Championship, it was more a matter of survival. For us now, we need to be the more ambitious team.”