The Bent Musket: Since the two teams last met on May 2 the Kickers are 3-0-1 and have outscored opponents 10-1, what has accounted for this success?
Ben Bromley (of Black and Red United): The fact that the defense and the goalkeeper are now locked in has been a huge part of the team's recent success. On-loan goalkeeper Joe Willis looked shaky in his first couple of games, coming off his line only to miss the ball or giving up soft goals that he should have had. However, his play combined with the renewal of the center back partnership of Conor Shanosky and William Yomby has locked down the Kickers defense. Add to that the somewhat surprisingly good play of George Davis IV and Matthew Delicate, and this team has finally figured itself out.
TBM: Following Michael Seaton's career from afar, I've been pretty interested in his development. The 18 year old forward recently scored his second goal for the senior Jamaican national team against Serbia, how important is his form for the Kickers?
BB: Luckily, his form is not extremely critical for the Kickers, since he has not been with the team much recently: Injuries, absences, and suspensions have required him to be in D.C. for the past few games. Also, the re-signing of Matthew Delicate, the return to health of Jason Yeisley, and the emergence of George Davis IV have all lessened the blow at the top of Leigh Cowlishaw's 4-2-3-1. However, when Seaton is with the Kickers, he is an immediate starter. He is faster, stronger, and better in the air than any of those other players individually, and he allows especially Davis IV to play his preferred wide forward role. My hope is that Seaton does not get stuck on the bench for D.C. United; at this point in his career, he needs regular game time, whether it be for the Kickers or for United.
TBM: Richmond are currently third in the standings, 2 points behind LA Galaxy II and 8 behind Orlando City with a game in hand over each club. How confident are you that Richmond can pass Los Dos and tangle with Orlando at the top of the table like last season?
BB: It took a league-record unbeaten streak for the Kickers to claim the Commissioner's Cup last season, and while that is possible again I don't necessarily see it (especially with the way that Orlando City has started their last season in USL PRO). However, I do think that an easily obtainable goal is to battle with (and beat out) LA Galaxy II and to secure the second spot in the league table, and be ready to snap at the heels of OCSC should their torrid streak wane.
Just for kicks, I've included Mr. Bromley's questions for me and my spectacular answers below:
BB:After a dismal 2013, which saw the Rochester Rhinos fire their coach midseason and miss the playoffs, the team has put together a decent run so far this season. What changed in the offseason?
TBM: The biggest change between 2013 and 2014 is the return of former head coach Bob Lilley. With respect to Jesse Myers, who was an assistant at Richmond for 14 years, he didn't have the team playing particularly attractive and the team struggled to take control of matches.
Lilley rebuilt the team's roster from scratch, bringing back just three guys from 2013 but ensuring he signed new guys who could play his way. In his previous three-seasons with the club, Lilley had some success winning the 2010 regular season title and reaching the semifinals of the 2009 U.S. Open Cup.
In terms of players, JC Banks is fully fit after returning from ACL surgery in the middle of last season and is in good form. Club captain Tyler Rosenlund had been rather ineffectual the past two seasons but is currently playing really well and controls possession moving the team forward.
BB: How has the affiliation deal with the New England Revolution gone so far, and how have their players integrated into the team?
TBM: Last year only one of the four loaned players, Bilal Duckett, secured himself a place in the starting line up. Bob Lilley has been implementing a lot of squad rotation this year but all three long-term loanees have featured in significant minutes for the team. Goalkeeper Luis Soffner has been sharing starting duties with rookie John McCarthy, while midfield Alec Sundly is a regular alongside Lance Rozeboom and Jossimar Sanchez is largely a backup option.
The Revolution sent Donnie Smith down to Rochester for Friday's game against the Kickers but expects him to return after. Smith previously had a 3-game loan with the Rhinos earlier this season and played against Richmond on May 2.
BB: Who is the one player on the Rhinos that Kickers fans should watch for? Who on this team do you think might make the jump to MLS?
TBM: JC Banks is the easy answer. The winger-turned-forward had been getting serious buzz from MLS sides, including training stints, before his 2012 ACL injury. Banks started his career as a winger capable of delivering service with either foot and now in his fourth season with the team has transitioned to a versatile striker who can excel in a number of formations.
Johnny Mendoza, who had a goal and an assist in the Third Round U.S. Open Cup match against Reading United AC on Tuesday night, can make the step up to the next level if he develops his two-way game a bit more. Mendoza has shown an ability to pop up in the right places and a great pass in the attacking third; if he puts in those performances on a more consistent basis, I wouldn't be surprised to see the midfielder get a sniff from MLS.