RICHMOND, Va. – The Richmond Kickers today announced a new partnership with Richmond United, entering the U-20 pre-professional team to play in the USL Academy in 2024. The team will have a direct affiliation to the Richmond Kickers’ professional USL League One team, as part of the full pathway now in place with the partnership between Richmond United and Richmond Kickers.
Richmond United fielding a team to compete in the USL Academy marks the next development in the evolution of the player development pathway in Richmond, with the move toward a more modernized, globally aligned model. The Richmond United USL Academy team, separate from the age group teams, will include top talent from Richmond United's oldest age groups to compete at the highest levels of pre-professional soccer while maintaining college eligibility.
"We have been working on this next step in our partnership for a long time, and I am delighted to see it finally come to fruition," said Kickers' Head Assistant Coach and Richmond United Technical Director Mika Elovaara. "Thanks to Liam O’Connell for working with us throughout the process, ensuring we take this next step in the strongest possible manner. Our membership in the USL Academy will further enhance the developmental and competitive path to our players, as it facilitates even more specific and detailed pathways within our whole community."
"We couldn't be more excited to support the vision behind Richmond Kickers and Richmond United's collaborative USL Academy project," said USL Academy Technical Director Liam O’Connell. "We encourage all professional USL clubs to work closely with prominent local youth soccer organizations within their communities, and we applaud Richmond United for connecting their top ECNL Boys program into this pro pathway through USL Academy. Beyond that though, the Kickers have proven their true intent behind this project, as shown in the signing and integration of numerous local teenagers to their pro team this year. We’re confident that those moves are just the start of this ambitious plan, and look forward to seeing even more players progress their careers through this unique pathway."
Not only intended for players on a professional pathway, through the USL Academy system, Richmond United academy players aspiring to play college soccer will have greater visibility in front of college scouts because of the awareness and college scout turnout that the USL Academy League and USL Academy Cup commands.
The USL Academy structure provides the platform for local talent to develop in their local professional systems before moving to professional ranks in the USL, or even earning moves to top European clubs like Louisville City FC's Joshua Wynder who transferred to Portuguese giants SL Benfica in June 2023.
Richmond United academy players will experience an elevated day-to-day training environment and play in league games against other regional professional team academies like North Carolina FC of the USL Championship and Charlotte Independence of USL League One. Because of the direct affiliation with the Kickers' first team, academy players competing on the pre-professional team will have the opportunity to develop and play alongside professional players.
"Our long-term goal with the Richmond Kickers is to help the development of players through the pathway here in Richmond, have them sign contracts with the Richmond Kickers' first team, then when the time is right, help them move on to the higher levels of the game benefitting both the professional club and the player," said Kickers Head Coach and Chief Sporting Officer Darren Sawatzky. "Each player has a different path, from direct entry into the professional game to college soccer opportunities, and to finding avenues that fit each player in their developmental cycle. The commitment of the USL, the USL Academy and Richmond United further cements these opportunities for Richmond Kickers pre-professional and professional players and we look forward to the competition in 2024 and beyond."
Additionally, Kickers first team players will be able to play in the Richmond United pre-professional team to play more competitive minutes or regain match fitness following an injury.
The technical staff managing Richmond United's USL Academy team will be announced at a later date.