Leigh Cowlishaw
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PSW Q&A with Leigh Cowlishaw - Part II

RICHMOND, VA. – Leigh Cowlishaw, the Richmond Kickers’ director of coaching, recently sat down with Potomac Soccer Wire to share his thoughts on various aspects of the club – from the Ultimate Cup to the U.S. Open Cup, from the changing landscape of open tryouts for the USL PRO team to the development of younger players on the club level.

Here's part II of our exclusive conversation.

PSW: What impact has the U.S. Soccer Development Academy on the boys’ side and the Elite Clubs National League on the girls’ side had on Richmond and the national youth scene?

LC: I think youth soccer’s evolving in a positive way. It can become very political with leagues and organizations, but one thing remains true for the Richmond Kickers, and we’ve been doing this before and after the creation of all these super leagues, as it were, is we’re interested in quality training over an extended period of time, always trying to push our players to the highest level possible. If you’re able to do that over an extended period of time, you’ll get very positive player development results.

I think you’ll really see [the progress] that we’ve made in the next five or 10 years, as many of our youth players become adults, ‘cause that’s when you’ll really have the true test, not about how good you are at 15, or if you’re the best player at 14, 15, you’ve got to continue that, you’ve got to be able to translate that into the professional game on the men’s and women’s side. Many of our players will have the mentality, the skills, the decision-making to transfer into the professional game very well.

PSW: Having worked beside former assistant coach Jesse Myers (now the head coach with the Rochester Rhinos after spending 14 years with the Kickers as an assistant coach and the director of the club’s academy), what will his absence feel like?

LC: It’s a very unique situation. Jesse was an integral part before I was the coach. He has the network, second-to-none. To fill that void is going to be very difficult. The beauty was that we always saw the game in very similar ways, and so it was always beneficial to bounce ideas off of each other. And he was, to me, the perfect coach to have by your side. He’s going to be very successful in Rochester. They’ve got a very healthy budget, probably one of the top budgets in the league. He’s already signed some very respectable players, and there’s no question that Rochester will be competing, as they always have in the past, be competing for a championship.

PSW: Talk about the merging of the two tournaments (the Chesterfield Icebreaker and the Kickers Invitational) to form the upcoming Ultimate Cup.

LC: The Ultimate Cup, for our club, it’s a great couple of weekends because we’re able to see all of our teams from the youngest players at U-9, where we start to put them into a realistic game environment for the first time in 7v7, we get to see our Classic-level teams play, and we also provide a nice preseason event for our Kickers’ Elite teams who get to play some of the better teams in the region as well. So overall, from a club perspective, it’s one of the reasons why we’ve embraced the Ultimate Cup idea that is ideal for our club.

PSW: That’s a big event to stage.

LC: It’s really unique, too. It’s really an important part that we want to make an impact with Chesterfield County.

You’ve got an ample supply of artificial fields to protect against the weather at that time of year. And you’ve got good competition. It’s early in the season. It’s very different to the Jefferson Cup. We’re not trying to overload and have too many teams. We’re just looking for a little bit more quality.

PSW: Almost like the icebreaker tournaments?

LC: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s more focused on preseason and development. There is always a cup, because you like to compete a little bit, but the ultimate goal is to have a very high-level quality preseason event that makes a significant impact, economically, on Chesterfield County.

PSW: On another subject, how do you like the format changes to the U.S. Open Cup?

LC: I love it. It’s a significant change. Selfishly for the Kickers, we’re one game away from MLS opposition. We have a 50/50 chance now with hosting a meaningful game, and it can be a massive difference on the season for us. It can be a huge financial game-changer for us. It can be a great shift in the media to bring an MLS team in. And, like we saw last year, we enjoy playing MLS teams, and we enjoy knocking them out. And, it’s a lot of fun for us to try and do that.

PSW: And it takes away some of the financial inequality between clubs with the new structure.

LC: Yes. Before it was not a fair competition, and now it’s a meaningful competition which allows everybody a fair chance at hosting, and I think it will pay dividends down the road to have more eyes on the tournament and increase its popularity.

PSW: You typically build your clubs to compete in the U.S. Open Cup. What’s shaping up for this year?

LC: I like our chances that we have one game to face an MLS team, and I’ll be very disappointed if we can’t make that happen this year. There’s also an opportunity that we’re working on to hopefully have an exhibition with D.C. United as part of the 20th anniversary celebration. And we have an outside chance of maybe, possibly bringing a Premiership team in as well.