As the Richmond Kickers prepare for play at a new level of the United Soccer League next year, the club also is preparing for a move into a new ownership era.
The Kickers announced on Tuesday that the group 22 Holdings, LLC is finalizing a deal to take over as the majority owner of the club’s pro team. The team is due to close the deal by the end of this year. The group will take the reins from the Kickers’ youth club — the youth club will now hold a minority share in the pro team.
The group 22 Holdings is made up of six players from Davidson’s 1992 Final Four men’s soccer team, led by Rob Ukrop. Ukrop is the former president of the Kickers’ board of directors. He stepped down earlier this year.
Ukrop said it just felt as if the time was right for the change.
“We just love soccer, we love making an impact,” Ukrop said of the ownership group. “And we really think this is the right place to make a big impact.”
The group was formed last year, after a 25-year reunion for Davidson’s Final Four team.
The team captain of that 1992 squad, Matt Spear, was announced as the president of the Kickers’ pro team earlier this month. He stepped away from his position as the men’s soccer coach at Davidson, which he held for 18 years.
Spear says he believes the new ownership arrangement will allow the pro team to have a little bit more independence.
“To be able to be more assertive, little more aggressive,” he said. “Go out and market ourselves slightly separately.”
From the youth club’s perspective, John Brooks, the new president of the Kickers’ board of directors, said the new ownership is not going to change the way it operates.
“It’s going to give us renewed energy to pursue the youth club side of things,” Brooks said, “as well as some synergies with the pro team that we had, but we’re going to make them better.”
It was announced in September that the Kickers’ pro team would drop down a division. The USL became a second-tier league in 2017, after previously operating at the third-division level.
The Kickers will play at the third-tier level again next year, as part of the new “USL League One.” The USL, at the second-tier level, has been rebranded as “USL Championship.”
Spear said he likes the way Kickers coach David Bulow thinks.
Bulow was named the coach of the Kickers in June after 19th-year coach Leigh Cowlishaw stepped down.
As the team moves into USL League One, Spear said Bulow wants to win the league now.
“And we’re going to go after that,” Spear said.
The Kickers are in the process of signing players, with announcements coming “very soon,” Spear said. Bulow said he’s excited about the caliber of the players who have shown real interest in the club.
With the new ownership group formally entering the picture, the ambition of everyone is what stands out to Bulow.
“I mean, they want to win and they want to compete, and I think they provide an opportunity where they can provide the proper investment,” Bulow said.