Heading into the 2011 US Open Cup Quarterfinals the Richmond Kickers are the last men standing as representatives of the lower divisions in the tournament. As the lone underdog in the Elite Eight, the club will need to defeat three top flight Major League Soccer teams in order to become the second lower division team to win the championship since the 1996 launch of MLS.
And for Richmond, that would mark the second title for a team that was the last to win the tournament beforehand, capturing the double in 1995.
The ‘Last Men Standing’ club is a small group comprised now of seven sides that have been the solitary lower division team remaining in the tournament on nine occasions with the Rochester Rhinos and Charleston Battery being the only two to achieve that status twice. All but one lost their very next game. The lone victory by a Last Men Standing team came in the 1999 Open Cup championship when the Rhinos defeated the Colorado Rapids 2-0 at Columbus Crew Stadium as the Rhinos were one of two lower division teams in the Semifinals that year along with the Battery.
DC United defeated the last two Last Men Standing clubs, topping the Rhinos in the 2009 Semifinals and the Battery in the 2008 Championship by the same 2-1 scoreline. They also lost, 2-1, in the 1997 Semifinals to the San Francisco Bay Seals, the first club to claim Last Men Standing status.
Richmond’s Quarterfinal opponent Sporting Kansas City knocked out Last Men Standing side Milwaukee Rampage in the 2000 Quarterfinals, 2-0.
Last Men Standing History
2011 – Richmond Kickers – Quarterfinals – TBD
2009 – Rochester Rhinos – Semifinals – Lost 2:1 to DC United
2008 – Charleston Battery – Final – Lost 2:1 to DC United
2005 – Minnesota Thunder – Semifinals – Lost 5:2 to LA Galaxy
2004 – Charleston Battery – Semifinals – Lost 1:0 to Chicago Fire
2002 – Milwaukee Rampage – Quarterfinals – Lost 2:0 to Kansas City Wizards
1999 – Rochester Rhinos – Final – Won 2:0 versus Colorado Rapids
1998 – Nashville Metros – Quarterfinals – Lost 5:1 to Dallas Burn
1997 – San Francisco Bay Seals – Semifinals – Lost 2:1 to DC United
The Last Men Standing – The Team
The Kickers could probably best be described as a club of consistency. They are a team comprised of a high rate of return among its roster every year and are perennial contenders for the league championship.
Richmond has reached the league final six of the last nine campaigns, winning a pair of championships. The club has missed the postseason only once since its second season in 1994. In many markets around the country, that would make the Kickers stars of the community, but in Richmond they play in the regional shadow of DC United, stealing a little bit of the limelight on occasion in the US Open Cup with victories against MLS. But even in the Open Cup that has been a difficult task as DC has reached the semifinals four of the last five years.
Richmond coach Leigh Cowlishaw, however, disputes being in DC’s shadow. “DC United has limited impact in the Richmond market,” he says. “We have always focused on creating a club structure that will lead the way as the future for US Soccer. Regardless of how the Kickers are perceived from the outside, we continue to work toward that goal.”
The Third Round victory against Columbus made the Crew the fourth MLS club that the Kickers have upset in the tournament having previously knocked out DC (2004), Colorado (2000) and the LA Galaxy (pre-Beckham 2007). All were at home.
With DC struggling in league play for a fourth consecutive season and missing the tournament for the first time since 2002, the Kickers are poised to step fully into the spotlight of the region should they defeat Kansas City at their newly unveiled LiveStrong Sporting Park to reach the semifinals for the first time since winning the title in 1995.
As for the roster stability, five of the players who started all three Open Cup matches this year are in their third season with the club.
Goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale leads the pack in his 12th campaign with a back line consisting of Sascha Gorres (7th season), Henry Kalungi (3rd season), Yomby William (3rd season) and Luke Vercollone (4th season) in front of him.
“It always makes the coaching staff’s job much easier when we work with players who are familiar with the tactics and systems we wish to implement,” said Cowlishaw, adding “We have always focused on signing players who we know can not only excel on the field but also act as positive role models for our youth players and surrounding community.”
Among the other veteran players on the side are strikers Matthew Delicate and David Bulow, who are both in their fifth season with the team. Bulow has played in all three games, starting the first round win against Dayton and the second round victory versus Pittsburgh before coming off the bench in Columbus. Meanwhile, Delicate started the past two games after sitting out the first match.
In addition to being great players in the air, Cowlishaw noted their ability to “lead the line defensively, and most importantly have the ability to score important goals when the team needs them most” as for their importance to the team.
Bulow is coming off of tallying a goal and an assist in their last league outing, a 3-1 victory at home on July 3 against Dayton that gave the club only its second win in its last eight league contests. After opening the season 6-0-1, the team has surprisingly struggled in USL Pro action with a record of 2-4-2, registering just as many wins against their own league foes in the US Open Cup along with their surprising victory in Columbus. They face Charlotte on back-to-back nights in league play Friday and Saturday in advance of their Quarterfinal contest in Kansas City.
And don’t consider for a second that having won numerous league championships has led to the club shifting focus to the tournament as a new challenge. According to Cowlishaw, a member of the team who won the 1995 US Open Cup, priority number one remains qualifying for the USL postseason.
The coach says their “eyes are definitely more focused on securing an USL playoff spot. Unfortunately our Open Cup success along with several injuries to important players and a small squad of players has made the congested schedule difficult to manage.”
“Our mentality is the same as it has been over the previous 20 years. We have always strived to develop teams that can on their day compete with any professional team in the country. The squad is not designed to win a regular season championship; however, we have a small squad of players who are confident and excited about upcoming Open Cup and USL matches.”
The Last Men Standing – The Players
Bangura, Shaka: In only his second season as a professional player, Bangura joined the Kickers after playing for the Puerto Rico Islanders in 2010 and has a goal and assist in the 2011 tournament. He tallied both in his tournament debut, a 4-1 victory against league foe Dayton in the First Round, and has appeared in all three matches thus far. Although he did not see any action in the Puerto Rico’s CONCACAF Champions League campaign a year ago, he made 14 appearances in league play as a rookie.
Bulow, David: The striker is quickly becoming a rising star not only in the current edition of the tournament with five goals, but also for the Professional Era (1995-present), sitting level with Jaime Moreno and Johnny Menyongar with 13 at the top of the goal scoring table. This is the fourth tournament which he has scored in playing for Richmond (2007, 08 & 09) and the sixth overall having also scored for the Cape Cod Crusaders (3 in 2004 & 2 in 2006).
Burke, Michael: Likely only to be seen patrolling the sidelines as an assistant, the longtime midfielder is still on the roster and could be used in the future should an emergency arise. He has been with the club since 2000, scoring his lone Kickers Open Cup goal in 2001. He also tallied once in the 1999 tournament for the Charleston Battery.
Callahan, Michael: He is in his first season with Richmond, but has plenty of US Open Cup experience from six appearances in the last two years of the tournament while playing for the Austin Aztex.
Delicate, Matthew: Tied for eighth on the Professional Era goal scoring list for the tournament with nine goals, Delicate is having his best tournament statistically with three tallies in two appearances after sitting out the First Round match. The striker scored two goals in last year’s Open Cup campaign and also in the 2007 campaign while playing for Rochester, whom he also tallied one for in 2006. A product of the club’s former PDL team (2003-04), he spent two seasons in Richmond before spending three with the Rhinos prior to returning.
Dos Santos, Gerson: In his third season with the club, Dos Santos has played in the tournament the past two years, but has yet to make an appearance in 2011 after suffering an injury June 17 versus Harrisburg. He is slated to return to the squad soon.
Elcock, Edson: The striker has become a regular for the Kickers in the Open Cup, setting up two goals in three appearances this year and playing in two contests a year ago. He joined the club in 2009 after stints with the Kansas City Wizards and Puerto Rico Islanders, but made his first appearance in the tournament in 2006 with the Virginia Beach Submariners in the PDL, playing in a first round loss to Wilmington.
Foglesong, Robert: In his second season as a professional, the midfielder has played in one Open Cup match this season after making two appearances a year ago.
Gorres, Sascha: A member of the team since 2005, Gorres has been a staple in the club’s lineup for years. He played in two games last year and has seen action in all three this year. He is one of four players on the squad with two assists in the Open Cup campaign.
Harding, Evan: With the club up 3-1 in the Second Round versus Pittsburgh, Harding came on for only his second appearance overall on the season having only played one minute in the regular season prior to a halftime insertion July 3. The defender has been with the club since 2007.
Heins, Ryan: Heins has had a limited role in the Open Cup campaign with one appearance in his first year with the team despite being a regular in league play. He spent the past three seasons in Rochester, registering his lone Open Cup goal in 2009. He also played in the tournament for Harrisburg in 2008 as well as in three tournaments (2004, 05, 07) while playing for the PDL’s Ocean City Nor’easters (formerly Barons).
Hertel, Dave: In his second season with the club, the midfielder has made two appearances for the Kickers in the last two Open Cup campaigns. He also played in the tournament in 2008 as a member of the Michigan Bucks in the PDL.
Hiroyama, Nozomi: New to the American game, the midfielder has made two appearances in the tournament and scored the opening goal of the club’s 2-1 victory in Columbus in the Third Round.
Kalungi, Henry: In his third season with the club, the defender has increasingly become a part of the team’s Open Cup campaigns. He has played in all three matches this year after making two appearances in 2010 and one in 2009. His tournament debut, ironically came against Richmond in 2008 as a member of the Fredericksburg Gunners in a 3-0 first round loss.
MacKenzie, Ross: Though the midfielder has seen limited action in league play, he has made the most of two appearances in the Open Cup with a pair of assists. In his third year with the team, he previously made an appearance in the 2009 tournament for the Kickers and made his Open Cup debut in 2008, coming off the bench for the Carolina RailHawks.
Nyazamba, Stanley: One of four players on the team with two assists, the midfielder has played in all three games in the tournament this year in his return to the club for the first time since 2008 when he played in two Open Cup matches. He spent 2009 with the Columbus Crew, who he tallied one of the assists against, and made an appearance in the tournament last year while playing for FC Tampa Bay.
Pascale, Ronnie: A member of the team since 2000, Pascale has been the number one netminder for the club since 2002 and has stepped aside on very few occasions in league and Open Cup play. He has played every minute of the 2011 Open Cup campaign, allowing only one goal per game with one coming via the penalty spot.
Vercollone, Luke: A veteran professional that has played with the Kickers since 2008 after two years with Charleston Battery, the defender has played in all three Open Cup games so far this year, marking his sixth consecutive year of playing in the tournament. He scored two goals for the Battery in their 2007 Quarterfinal run.
Wallace, Jamel: Despite limited time in the lineup on the season, Wallace has made two starts in the tournament, including against Columbus in the Third Round. He also played in the Open Cup a year ago with the Kitsap Pumas.
William, Yomby: One of the leaders on the club, the defender has played in all three games of the current Open Cup campaign and made appearances in his previous two seasons with the Kickers. The defender developed his tournament acumen with the Puerto Rico Islanders in 2008, coming off the bench in the first leg of their Preliminary Round series of the CONCACAF Champions League in Costa Rica. He would go on to start in five of the six group stage matches as the Islanders advanced to the CCL Quarterfinals. He joined the Islanders on a transfer from Kansas City, where he did not make a first team appearance with the club despite being the 23rd overall pick by the then-named Wizards.