David Bulow's lone goal earned the Richmond Kickers a 1-0 victory over Antigua Barracuda FC, punching the team's ticket to the postseason Friday night.
Keeping Richmond's hopes of finishing second in the USL PRO standings alive, Bulow and Nozomi Hiroyama teamed up for the decisive play, four minutes after entering the match. Holding his own deep in Barracudas territory, Hiroyama turned his defender and fed the ball to a fleeting Sascha Görres. With one touch, he sliced a cross through the penalty area, finding Luke Vercollone at the right edge of the box but the midfielder's ambitious strike was deflected wide.
Hiroyama stepped up for the resulting corner kick and played a short ball to Görres who once again delivered a perfectly placed left-footed cross into the mix. Bulow rose above the crowd and nodded home the crucial goal just inside the right post.
The Kickers nearly broke the ice 45 minutes earlier when Philippe Davies served a corner kick into traffic. The ball fell to Matthew Delicâte at the penalty spot but his header was cleared off the line. Shane Johnson attempted to volley the loose ball but his rebound shot was blocked by the Antigua defense.
Meanwhile, the Barracudas saw their best chance of the half fall by the wayside in the 28th minute. Orlando Mitchem collected the ball in the midfield and quickly fed it to Randolph Burton on the left wing. Beating his mark, he slotted a low ball on target but Kickers veteran goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale dove to the near post to smother his effort.
The two clubs entered the break scoreless after the Kickers failed to convert a chance in first half stoppage time. Controlling the ball, midfielder Gerson Dos Santos played it wide to Vercollone on the right wing who lofted a cross into the box. Delicâte won the ball in the air but his point blank header sailed just over the crossbar.
Following Bulow's well-timed tally, the Kickers continued to pepper the Barracudas goal with shots throughout the second half but nearly squandered their lead in the 83rd minute. Antigua attempted to capitalize on a missed clearance when Mitchem gathered the ball on the left side of the box and found an unmarked Lawson Robinson behind the defense. One on one with Pascale, he fired from 18 yards but was denied by the post, allowing the Kickers to collect all three points on the first leg of their two-game regular season finale.
The Kickers are now tied with the Rochester Rhinos at 38 points apiece, with both teams having one game to play and Richmond (+5) holding a two-goal advantage over Rochester (+3) on goal differential. The Kickers conclude the 2012 regular season with the second leg of the two-game series against the Antigua Barracuda FC on Sunday, August 19.