Former MLS academy product (Landon Johnson, left), current youth international (Nicholas Simmonds, right) to develop with Kickers' first team | Image Credit: Jessica Stone Hendricks Photography
RICHMOND, Va. - Ahead of its league match against the Charlotte Independence on Saturday and its international friendly against Comunicaciones FC, the Richmond Kickers signed 16-year-old midfielders Landon Johnson and Nicholas Simmonds to USL Academy contracts. Both local products with experience with Richmond United, Johnson joins after a year with the Atlanta United Academy and Simmonds joins following his first international appearance with Jamaica in the 2023 Concacaf Men’s U-17 Championship.
"We are gradually starting to see early glimpses of the benefits of our recently established partnership with Richmond United to have a full pathway for players to get after their goals and pursue their dreams right here in Richmond,” Richmond Kickers Head Assistant Coach and Richmond United Technical Director Mika Elovaara said.
"It is important to keep in mind that having players like Nicholas and Landon immersed in both the professional environment and the academy environment benefits everyone, not just the specific players and our team, but the greater RVA soccer community as well."
Landon Johnson returns to the River City after spending a year in the Atlanta United Academy. However, the opportunity for the 16-year-old to return to his hometown to continue developing was something he craved.
"I was invited to train with the Kickers for a week this summer, and at the end of the week Darren had told me he thinks I have the building blocks to be a pro," Johnson said. "As a player with a dream of playing professionally, this is one of the best things you can hear. Early the next week Darren pulled me aside and offered me an academy contract with the Richmond Kickers."
Landon Johnson signing his USL Academy contract with Richmond | Image Credit: Jessica Stone Hendricks Photography
Johnson joins his brother Ty – who signed a USL Academy contract during the 2021 season – as the third pair of brothers to play for the Kickers since Evan and Vaughn Fowler in 2013 and Derrick and Darrell Etienne from 1998-2001.
The Chesterfield, Va. native is the fourth player with Richmond United pedigree to sign a USL Academy contract with the Kickers during the 2023 season. He is also the second local player this season to return to the Kickers from an MLS Academy after Gabe Cox joined from the Columbus Crew Academy ahead of the preseason.
"In my experience, young players in their home environment with their families, their friends, and the familiarity of everyday life, thrive if given the best overall opportunity to grow as young people and as players," Richmond Kickers Chief Sporting Officer and Head Coach Darren Sawatzky said. "We want the Richmond Kickers professional team to be the showcase of the great player development in Richmond and we are working every day to make this a destination for young players in that development cycle.
"Landon is a player that sought a higher level but has returned to Richmond to continue his development and work for the highest level of the game. We see Landon competing for time with the professional team and his attacking qualities and his humble nature fit with our culture here."
Nicholas Simmonds signing his USL Academy contract with Richmond | Image Credit: Jessica Stone Hendricks Photography
Nicholas Simmonds becomes the second second-generation player to don a Kickers shirt after his father Gregory Simmonds previously played for the club in 2003. The Midlothian, Va. native is the fifth player with Richmond United pedigree to sign a USL Academy contract with the Kickers during the 2023 season and recently earned his first international cap with Jamaica's youth national team against Guadeloupe in the 2023 Concacaf Men’s U-17 Championship in February.
A fixture in the Richmond youth soccer scene along with many of his family members, he is the brother of Kameron Simmonds who is a Richmond United alum, a member of the University of Tennessee’s Lady Volunteers varsity soccer team, and a member of the Jamaica women’s national team who will compete in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand later this month.
"Nicholas is a talented young player with a big ceiling," Darren Sawatzky said. "We feel he is ready for the day-in, day-out rigors of training with professional players. He is a gifted player with good passing range and the ability to unlock defenses. He comes from a strong soccer family and we are very happy to add his acumen to the ranks here.
"The next couple years are going to be exciting with young talented players chasing the game with the Richmond Kickers. If you are good enough, you are old enough. We expect Nicholas to challenge for minutes after he returns from the national finals with Richmond United."