Jun 8, 2012

Preview: Kickers vs. Eagles at Home Saturday

KICKERS HOST CHARLOTTE SATURDAY
Veteran Goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale Named USL PRO Player of the Week

RICHMOND, VA – (Wednesday, June 6, 2012) – The Richmond Kickers return to City Stadium this Saturday, June 9 to host the Charlotte Eagles at 7 p.m. 

The Kickers claimed four points on the road last weekend during a two-game trip to Harrisburg and Rochester.  Defender Shane Johnson notched his first professional goal in the 1-1 draw against the City Islanders before Luke Vercollone registered the Kickers lone tally against the Rhinos the following day.  Veteran goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale posted 19 saves on the weekend to preserve his second shutout of the season, taking USL PRO Player of the Week honors.

“We really need to continue the positive momentum into the Charlotte weekend,” commented Leigh Cowlishaw, Richmond Kickers Head Coach and Director of Soccer.  “We still need to treat every game as a cup final if we are to qualify for the playoffs.  Charlotte's position in the league standings is very misleading and by all accounts they are a very accomplished team this season.”

Despite posting a 2-7-2 record and eight points during the regular season, the Eagles are coming off a remarkable 2-1 overtime win against the San Antonio Scorpions in last night’s U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round game.  Knocking off Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas one week earlier, the Eagles advanced to the Quarterfinals for the first time in franchise history when Mauricio Salles converted a 116th minute penalty kick to oust the NASL team from this year’s tournament.  One of three USL PRO teams to make it through to the next round, the Eagles will travel to The Home Depot Center in Carson, CA to take on Chivas USA on June 26.     

The Kickers and the Eagles meet for the first time this season, having exchanged 2-1 victories during the 2011 campaign.  After suffering a loss during a rain-soaked marathon in Richmond, the Kickers sought revenge 24 hours later in Charlotte.  The dramatic back-to-back weekend ended when Kickers midfielders Luke Vercollone and Edson Elcock registered in the second half before Charlotte midfielder Darren Toby pulled a goal back in the final minute of regulation. 

With an all-time series advantage of 19-9-9 over the Eagles, the Kickers’ extensive rivalry dates back to the club’s inception in 1993.  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 rallied from a one goal deficit to reclaim the USL-2 crown, 3-1, over the Eagles in 2009.

Following Saturday’s contest, the Kickers swap home field advantage with the Eagles when they travel to Charlotte Christian Stadium on Saturday, June 16.  Next month, the two teams face off in back-to-back matches on Friday, July 27 and Saturday, July 28, to conclude the season’s four-game series.

Players to Watch
Kickers:  Stalwart defender Shane Johnson (#3) has played every minute of every game during the 2012 campaign, netting his first goal with the Kickers against the Harrisburg City Islanders last Friday, earning USL PRO Team of the Week honors.  Integral on both sides of the ball, the Longwood University product contributed to the Kickers second shutout of the season against the Rochester Rhinos 24 hours later.  Midfielder Nozomi Hiroyama (#9) made his first start of the season against Rochester, setting up the lone goal of the night inside the first five minutes.  With professional experience extending to four continents, Hiroyama unleashed a 20-yard curler to the far post that was destined for goal but instead rattled the crossbar, allowing Luke Vercollone (#4) to finish the rebound with a diving header.  A former New England Revolution midfielder, Vercollone has played all but three minutes during the 2012 campaign and reached his 100th appearance with the Kickers against the Chicago Fire during last year’s U.S. Open Cup Semifinals.

Eagles:  Late heroics by Mauricio Salles (#27) boosted the Eagles through to the U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinals this week when he converted a 116th minute penalty kick to upset the San Antonio Scorpions, 2-1.  The experienced forward has added one goal during the regular season, to avoid a shutout in the Eagles 2-1 loss to Harrisburg in April.  Colombian midfielder Jorge Herrera (#10) led the Eagles in 2011 with four goals and seven assists for 15 points on the season.  Picking up where he left off, he has registered two goals and an assist during the 2012 campaign, most recently notching the game-winning goal against Harrisburg last month. In his tenth season with the Eagles, Josh Rife (#29) continues to anchor the defense, which shutout Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas in the U.S. Open Cup Third Round last week.  The veteran defender has received All-League honors multiple times, and was named USL-2 Defender of the Year in 2005.