RICHMOND, Va. – During the Richmond Kickers’ drive to reach the USL Cup Playoffs two seasons ago, midfielder Yudai Imura’s ability to conjure goals at crucial times was critical to the club’s success.
With his side having gone behind early against Toronto FC II on Wednesday night at City Stadium, the Japanese standout produced another such finish with a pin-point curling strike to the top-right corner that got the Kickers back on track in a 2-1 victory that saw the side rebound from a tough road loss in its previous outing.
“Fantastic goal by Yudai to get us back into the game,” said Kickers Head Coach Leigh Cowlishaw. “Certainly, that was a massive boost for us.”
The goal was Imura’s second of the season but proved a bright spot in a first half that saw Toronto defend strongly to remain on level terms as the Kickers had difficulty building on the momentum they carried from the 11th-minute strike. Imura’s finish was Richmond’s only shot on target in the opening 45 minutes as their visitors not only sat deep but also pressed effectively when the opportunity arose.
“We struggled to figure out what we needed to do to really hurt them,” said Cowlishaw. “I thought they were still really dangerous, looking to turn the ball over in the wrong areas and had a couple of great counterattack opportunities. We really didn’t get going until the start of the second half. We talked about trying to be more specific to the way we want to play and our DNA, and I think you saw the second half was very different.”
Pushing hard down the right side for much of the second half, the Kickers’ emphasis on getting into wide positions in the final third quickly paid off. A clever flicked pass by halftime substitute Giuseppe Gentile off Imura’s ball upfield released Raul Gonzalez into space, and while Brian Shriver’s near-post run to meet the ensuing cross didn’t provide the final finish, it helped cause an error by Toronto defender Brandon Onkony, who saw the ball ricochet off him and into the net for the decisive goal.
Gonzalez and right back Braeden Troyer continued to press down the right side in the second half, and Gonzalez almost put the game away in the 68th minute when he was released on a fine angled ball by Shriver only to put his finish too close to Toronto goalkeeper Angelo Cavalluzzo. Emerging with the club’s second win of the season at home, though, was all that mattered in the end for the Kickers’ players.
“Three points – that’s massive. We needed that,” said Troyer. “It’s early in the season, so that’s what we need. We need to show our experience and that we have confidence in our team, so I think that’s great for all of us.”
Having gone through an 11-day break between games since its 2-1 loss to Louisville City FC on April 14, Richmond is now looking at a similar stint before it heads to face Bethlehem Steel FC on May 6 in its next outing. The side will find ways to get live action over that span, but the driving motivation for the game will be the memory of Steel FC’s 4-1 victory at Goodman Stadium on the opening weekend of the season.
“We’ll be very much up for that to put things right because that was not the performance we were expecting,” said Cowlishaw. “Everything is ticking but we don’t want to get too high. The Louisville game was disappointment but again, we’re three minutes away and we have to keep it calm and understand that these things happen sometimes. We’ll have a training game tomorrow for the guys who need it. We’ll have a couple days off. It will give us plenty of time to really push on for Bethlehem and the Open Cup run.”