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USL’s old guard breaking up? Richmond Kickers now dropping down to DIII

What is happening to the USL’s old guard?

It was announced earlier today the Richmond Kickers will be following the Rochester Rhinos, who are currently taking a year sabbatical, for the 2019 season as founding members of the USL’s new Division III league.

The USL’s new professional league will have its inaugural season in 2019.

Established in 1993, the Kickers are one of the longest tenured clubs in American professional soccer.

Competitively, the Kickers have been a perennial playoff contender in the current USL, until the past two seasons when the USL has moved up to Division II status on the US Soccer pro soccer pyramid.

This season, they’ve really bottomed out with an overall USL league record of 6-18-4. Despite its on-field woes, the franchise continues to draw similar attendance numbers compared to recent years (4,146 fans per game – 58,047 for the season). By comparison, the Riverhounds have drawn just 2,333 fans per game (34,995 total) this season.

In addition, in July, USL announced its latest expansion club, Loudoun United, headquartered in Loudoun County, Virginia.

The Loudoun club, would be D.C. United’s new USL affiliate team, becoming the seventh and final new club set to join the league for the 2019 season.  They join the Kickers as the only professional soccer teams based in Virginia.

Rochester’s plight, and Richmond’s move will only fuel speculation on the status of current USL teams that were part of the early years of the the pro soccer landscape from the late 1990s and early 2000s: Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, Penn FC (which re-branded this season from its previous Harrisburg City Islanders) and Charleston Battery.

Those three teams are currently competing for playoff positioning this season, primarily the Hounds and the Battery, who are two of the top four teams in the USL’s Eastern Conference standings.

The Hounds and owner Tuffy Shallenberger reiterated numerous times in 2017, and during the beginning of the 2018 season, that they’re committed to being a part of USL’s Division II league.

Again, in light of this news, Pittsburgh Soccer Now reached out to the Riverhounds SC club officials to find out if they will be issuing a statement regarding status for 2019.

Club officials did share a response.

“There definitively has not been a conversation of the Riverhounds going Division III,” a club official confirmed later Tuesday.

Some signs that may have pointed to a move to DIII, the Richmond organization made some personnel changes — as long-time coach Leigh Colishaw stepped down from coaching duties to become the club’s sporting director, and roster didn’t have any real major signings in the off season.

In a statement earlier today through USL press release, the Kickers feel that Division III is a better fit for them as they move ahead.

“The USL’s new professional league is the perfect fit for the long-term success of the Kickers organization,” said Kickers President Vern Inge. “As an organization we have seen substantial growth on and off the field in the past decade, including acquiring a long-term lease at our home of City Stadium. This move will further strengthen the club as we close in on our third decade of operation, continuing to offer a high level of professional soccer in one of the best playing environments in the country.”

The Kickers have consistently been one of the most successful professional soccer clubs in the United States over the past 25 seasons, qualifying for postseason play 22 times. Richmond made eight league championship appearances (1995, 1996, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010), taking the USL Second Division crown against Charlotte in 2006 and again in 2009.

The Kickers have also achieved success in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, claiming the championship in 1995 and making a memorable run to the tournament’s Semifinals in 2011 when it defeated Columbus Crew SC and Sporting Kansas City.

In addition to on-field success, the Kickers have been awarded USL Organization of the Year honors five times (1995, 2000, 2006, 2007, 2009).

“The Kickers have a long, distinguished history within our leagues, so we are thrilled to have Richmond join the new USL Division III as a founding member,” USL President Jake Edwards said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the entire Kickers organization to achieve their goals on and off the field.”

USL Division III has now announced eight teams set to compete in 2019. The Kickers join South Georgia Tormenta FC (Statesboro, Georgia), FC Tucson (Tucson, Arizona), Greenville Triumph SC (Greenville, South Carolina), Madison Pro Soccer (Madison, Wisconsin), Toronto FC II (Toronto, Ontario), Chattanooga Pro Soccer (Chattanooga, Tennessee) and Orlando City B (Orlando, Florida) as founding members of the professional league. The league remains focused on positioning teams for long-term success by creating regional rivalries that reduce travel costs, encourage supporter travel and deliver on-field excitement.

The supporter groups from the five teams consisting of the USL’s Old Guard Shield, will stand together regardless of any additional changes.

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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