The Richmond Kickers continue to be the Cinderella story of the 2011 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup after a 2-0 historic upset of Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City in the Quarterfinals (SEE HIGHLIGHTS BELOW). At the heart of their Open Cup run is veteran goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale, who made five saves to help the Kickers become the first lower division team to defeat back-to-back MLS teams on the road. For his efforts, Pascale has been voted as TheCup.us Player of the Round for the Quarterfinals.
The Player of the Round award is voted on by the staff of the definitive US Open Cup site TheCup.us and a selected panel of members of the North American Soccer Reporters, which also selects the MLS Player of the Week.
After cruising through the first two rounds against fellow USL Pro teams, the Dayton Dutch Lions and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (both 4-1 wins), Richmond upset the Columbus Crew 2-1 in Columbus in Round 3.
With the Kickers in the Quarterfinals for the fifth time in team history, they met a Sporting Kansas City team who put out a lineup full of starters with every intention of holding serve at home and moving on to the final four.
“To be honest, we didn’t talk much about [Sporting Kansas City] beforehand,” said Pascale. “It was our fourth game in nine days, and we had back-to-back games the weekend before and when we saw their lineup and saw that they were playing a lot of their starters we thought it was nice to see them respecting us.”
The Kickers, due to their busy weekend, were resting a few starters, including leading scorers David Bulow and Matthew Delicate, who suffered an injury the previous Friday.
“The plan was to limit their chances, crowd their midfield and just get to halftime 0-0 and see what happens from there,” said Pascale.
The first half went exactly to plan as the Kickers were in the locker room at the break in a scoreless draw. The second half kicked off and the two teams were still deadlocked when lightning literally struck in the 66th minute, bringing the game to a halt.
Pascale and his teammates were starting to wonder if they were ever going to catch a break. On Friday, their home game against the Charlotte Eagles (broadcast live on Fox Soccer Channel) suffered a two-hour lightning delay, which required the team to get special permission from the city of Richmond to resume the game later than is usually allowed. The game ended with Charlotte scoring a 90th minute game-winner. The next day, the two teams played again in Charlotte with Richmond winning 2-1.
During the delay, the Kickers were loose. The players were talking about the game and before they were about to return to the field, manager Leigh Cowlishaw walked in and told his players to “just go for it,” and that they “were not going into overtime.”
After a delay that lasted almost 90 minutes, Richmond’s Shaka Bangura shocked the soaking wet crowd with a goal less than a minute after the game restarted.
“After we scored, I looked at the clock and said to myself ‘we scored way too early,’” said Pascale. “Usually when you score against MLS teams, sometimes it just wakes them up.”
Ronnie Pascale’s Career Open Cup stats
Overall record: 15-8-0
23 GP – 2,104 minutes played
30 GA (1.28 GAA) – 6 shutouts
Record vs. MLS: 4-5-0
Wins vs. MLS 2004 (Rd 4): 2-1 win vs. DC United 2007 (Rd 3): 1-0 win vs. LA Galaxy 2011 (Rd 3): 2-1 win at Columbus Crew 2011 (QF): 2-0 win at Sporting KC
The goal did wake up Kansas City, but the back four continued to do a solid job limiting the home team’s chances, despite the heavy pressure.
“The defense in front of me did a phenomenal job, and not just backline – but it was a great team effort defensively,” said Pascale. “A team is always going to have a couple of decent chances, but the guys in front did a great job. Yomby [William] and Henry [Kalungi] are the best central defenders in the league and they stepped up when they had to.”
After Jamel Wallace drew a penalty kick, David Bulow converted to make it 2-0 and Pascale would make two key saves to preserve the shutout and the victory. The win ended a SKC’s 12-game unbeaten streak in all competitions and was the club’s first ever loss at the new stadium.
Pascale is no stranger to the US Open Cup. The Furman graduate, who also spent time coaching at Virginia Commonwealth, began his professional career with the Atlanta Silverbacks in 1999, but joined the Kickers the following year. He got his first exposure to the tournament that year, but he had to watch from the bench as starting goalkeeper Mike McGinty (and a young Dwayne De Rosario) helped the Kickers upset the Colorado Rapids 3-0.
In 2002, Pascale took over as the full-time starter and has played in every Richmond Open Cup game since (15-8-0), which includes 9 games against MLS foes , 4 of them victories (DC United in 2004, Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, Columbus Crew and Sporting Kansas City in 2011).
Pascale credits his experience of playing MLS teams in the past with some of the success he’s had this year.
“Early in my career, in 2002, we went into Columbus Crew stadium,” said Pascale. “I was pretty awestruck, being on the field with players like Brian McBride and Dante Washington, but as you do it more and more often, you just go out there and enjoy it.” [Richmond lost that game 3-0 with two goals by Washington and another by McBride]
Twenty Open Cup games later, Pascale looked anything but awestruck at LiveStrong Sporting Park. He will shift his focus to the Chicago Fire in what could be considered the biggest game in the club’s history since they lifted the Dewar Trophy at the 1995 Open Cup Final in El Paso.
“They’re a dangerous team with a lot of speed,” said Pascale. “They’re starting to play better and I think we’ve proven to ourselves that if we come in with a good game plan and we execute it, anything can happen.”
Quarterfinal Video Highlights: Richmond Kickers 2:0 Sporting KC