RICHMOND, VA – (Thursday, August 29, 2013) – The #1 seed Richmond Kickers return to City Stadium to host the #5 seed Charlotte Eagles in the USL PRO Semifinals this Saturday, August 31. The Second Round playoff match kicks off at 7:00 p.m. and the gates open at 5:30 p.m. with live music from WoodWork, adult beverages in the stadium’s outdoor bar, food trucks, ice cream and games for kids. Tickets are on sale now for $12/adults and $7/youth ages 3-17 at RichmondKickers.com.
The Kickers advanced to the USL PRO Semifinals after edging the Dayton Dutch Lions 1-0 in the Quarterfinal Round last Saturday. Kickers midfielder Joseph Ngwenya gave the home side the advantage with a second half goal and USL PRO Goals Against Average Champion Andrew Dykstra posted three saves to preserve the shutout to keep the Kickers undefeated at City Stadium this season. Richmond concluded the 2013 regular season atop the USL PRO table with a 15-1-10 record and 55 points, en route to their sixth Regular Season Championship title.
Meanwhile, Charlotte’s road to the Semifinals resulted in a 10-5-11 record and 41 points, good for a fifth place finish in the field of eight playoff bound teams. Recording the only upset of the opening postseason round, the Eagles stormed Skyline Sports Complex with a 3-1 win against the #4 seed Harrisburg City Islanders. Regular season leading scorers Christian Ramirez and Jorge Hererra gave the visitors a 2-0 lead with less than 10 minutes remaining before the Eagles conceded a goal in the 85th minute but Samuel Asante’s stoppage time finish boosted the Eagles through to the next round.
With an extensive rivalry spanning two decades, dating back to the clubs’ inception in 1993, the Kickers hold an all-time series record of 22-11-10 over the Eagles. The two clubs last met in Charlotte on August 2 when a hard-fought battle saw the Kickers escape with a 1-0 win. Scoreless through the first half, the Kickers relied on Ngwenya’s heroic second half tally to edge their long-time rivals on the road.
Earlier in the season, the Kickers hosted the Eagles at City Stadium in May when the home side rallied for a thrilling 3-3 draw. The Kickers claimed an early advantage courtesy of goals by Brian Ownby and Stanley Nyazamba, only to concede a pair of tallies as Drew Yates and Stefan Smith leveled the score in the second half. Eagles forward Shaun Francis broke the deadlock in the 90th minute, leaving Kickers defender Conor Shanosky to bury the equalizer with seconds remaining in stoppage time to salvage a point.
In addition to heated regular season matches, the perennial Championship contenders have a long history of battling in high stakes games. The two clubs met in the 2007 USL-2 Semifinals when the Kickers came away with a 2-1 overtime win, boosting Richmond to their third consecutive appearance in the finals. In 2006, the Kickers hosted Charlotte in the Championship when the same scoreline fell to the home side in regulation, granting the Kickers their third league title in franchise history. Three years later, the rivals met again in the title match, when the Kickers came back from a one goal deficit to reclaim the USL-2 crown, 3-1, over the Eagles in 2009.
The winner of Saturday’s game will advance to the USL PRO Championship to face the winner of the #2 seed Orlando City versus #3 seed Charleston Battery match.
Players to Watch:
Kickers: Goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra (#50) claimed the USL PRO Goals Against Average award as he finished the season with a GAA of 0.863. Joining the Kickers on loan from D.C. United, Dykstra was a key factor for the stingiest defense in USL PRO, posting his 12th shutout overall in the Kickers 1-0 win over Dayton last week. Splitting time between the defense and the midfield, Luke Vercollone (#4) has made 154 appearances and amassed over 13,000 minutes in a Kickers uniform over six seasons. He has added five goals and one assist during the 2013 regular season and was recently voted 2013 Supporter’s Choice MVP. Former Richmond Strikers and University of Virginia standout Brian Ownby (#12) returned to his hometown this season on loan from Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo. Recording 20 points in 20 games played overall, the midfielder finished second on the team in scoring with seven goals and six assists.
Eagles: Veteran midfielder Jorge Herrera (#10) leads the Eagles in scoring, recording 10 goals and four assists in 22 appearances, good for seventh in the league with 24 points. In his seventh season with Charlotte, the four-time USL All-League honoree added the game-winning goal and two assists in the Eagles 3-1 Quarterfinal win over Harrisburg last week. The Eagles second-highest scorer, Christian Ramirez (#17) has made an immediate impact in his rookie season, finding the back of the net eight times and adding five assists for 21 points. The Concordia University product added a goal against Harrisburg to open the 3-1 scoreline in the club’s Quarterfinal victory last week. Defender Ben Newnam (#5) played all but 60 minutes during his rookie campaign with the Eagles, logging more minutes than any other player in 26 appearances. The Wake Forest University product was integral on both sides of the ball, notching a goal and an assist while contributing to eight shutouts during the regular season.
USL PRO Playoff Structure
Kicking off last week, the 2013 USL PRO Playoffs included the top eight finishers in the table with the #1 seed Richmond Kickers edging the #8 Dayton Dutch Lions 1-0, #2 seed Orlando City ousting #7 Pittsburgh Riverhounds 5-0, #3 seed Charleston Battery battling the #6 Los Angeles Blues to a 2-1 win and the #4 seed Harrisburg City Islanders conceding a 3-1 loss to the #5 Charlotte Eagles in the Quarterfinals. The Semifinals featuring the four remaining teams will be played this Saturday as Richmond hosts Charlotte and Orlando hosts Charleston, with the 2013 USL PRO Championship set for the weekend of September 6-8. All playoff rounds feature a single-game knockout format and teams will not be re-seeded following each round.