While the American team's rise to relevance has become a popular story line at the World Cup in South Africa, Richmond has emerged as a hotbed for adult soccer.
“In 1990 there wasn't a soccer culture as I knew it,” says Richmond Kickers coach Leigh Cowlishaw, who came to the United States from England 20 years ago. Since joining the Kickers as a player in 1993 — Cowlishaw's been head coach for the last seven years — he's watched the city's soccer culture emerge from practically nothing.
“There were kids kicking around a ball, but Richmond was far removed from playing soccer as I understood it. There were no role models, it wasn't on TV, there was no Internet — and it took a week to find any sort of soccer coverage in a newspaper,” Cowlishaw says. “Now you go to a soccer camp and everyone's got an official jersey.”
Independent radio station WRIR-FM 97.3 recently launched the city's first soccer radio show, “The Total Football Soccer Show,” with soccer bloggers Taylor Rockwell and English expat Daryl Grove, and fellow footy fans Josh Stankus and Albert Otatti.
“Most soccer podcasts are just reporting the same news — breaking down big games, scores, news of the week,” Rockwell says. “We try to do other random … cultural stuff.”
The local culture really needed a kick in coverage, Grove says. The Central Virginia Soccer Association boasts approximately 2,100 registered members and more than 100 teams, he says — stats WRIR couldn't ignore.
The association, which works with the city, Virginia Commonwealth University and the Richmond Kickers, has doubled in size since its founding in 1975, league president Jesse Smith says. It's become the fourth-largest adult-only soccer league in the country, he says, with players from El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil.
The soccer craze infiltrates the city's tiny cultural enclaves, with teams such as FC Bosnia, Richmond Celtic FC and Thundercats — though there are some limits to what you can name your team. “We had to step in with teams like ‘Boats and Hoes' and ‘Somali Pirates,'” Smith says.
Although the Sticky Rice FC team boasts bartenders and sushi wrappers who can be seen smoking cigarettes at halftime, what started out as a friendly kitchen-versus-sushi game has resulted in one of the fiercest teams among the association's lower divisions.
“There are fights and people lose their temper — it shows that there's a lot of love for the game,” says Sticky Rice FC captain and bartender Jeremy Wilson. “People have fun but people are there to play. No one is there to lose.”