Richmond, Virginia: the home to the USL professional soccer team the Richmond Kickers, and multiple youth clubs that offer competitive soccer almost year around. But what is it like to be a homegrown legend? Many of today’s youth players grow up dreaming of playing sports professionally but never fulfill that dream and end up falling short. However, a select few put in the work to go the distance, and turn their dreams into a reality. Ryan Taylor has done just that; he is the goalkeeper for the Kickers and was born right here in Midlothian, Virginia.
Taylor began playing soccer with James River recreational soccer at the early age of four. Like most top soccer players, he began playing travel soccer at the youngest age possible for FC Richmond. Taylor attended Midlothian High School in Chesterfield County, playing JV his freshman year and varsity the three years after that.
When deciding where to play in college, Taylor chose Radford for multiple reasons. “I thought it was one of the best opportunities for me to play… and I wanted to go to school for sports medicine. Additionally, it had a physical therapy track as one of their majors.” Looking back on his decision, with a smile and a laugh he says, “It just made sense.”
While in college, his best memory was the first time he started in goal for the Highlanders, which came as a bit of a surprise. They were playing at Virginia Tech, and, “on the day of the game, coach called me and said… ‘You are going to play tonight.’” For his first game, his parents, “took off work and drove up,” to have the opportunity to watch him play against their alma mater. Taylor’s entire family and extended family went to Virginia Tech, including his brother, both his parents, and all his aunts and uncles. Taylor finished his career at Radford as First-Team All-Conference, First-Team All-State, Academic All-Conference, and Academic All-American.
Taylor, however, never intended to play professionally. “As a kid, I think I changed my dream every year,” he says, laughing and grinning ear to ear. He explains that he did not know at the time that he could play on the next level, “I had someone tell me; pro soccer was never in my plans.” Taylor knew that if he chose to play professionally, there would be obstacles and adversity to overcome.
Taylor’s future after college was foggy until he had a, “conversation with [his] head coach, Mark Reeves, at Radford… we were walking out the weight room one morning, and he said, ‘You know, you and I need to have a sit-down conversation about the aspects of you playing pro soccer when you graduate.’” After graduating in 2012, Taylor went to multiple clubs before signing here in Richmond with the Kickers in 2013. He describes the switch from college to the pros as, “a big transition… [because] everybody is the best… everybody was All-Americans, everybody at that level has gotten MLS looks.” Taylor saw that the whole group was on another level, “I think I was kind of a wide-eyed kid at the beginning, I was just so happy to be there, it took me a little while to get adjusted.”
The Richmond Kickers have made seven championship appearance in the past 20 years under the helm of head coach Leigh Cowlishaw. Taylor says that success is due to the team’s dedication, “For seven to eight months you are waking up and going to work every morning, and sometimes you’re sore, and sometimes you don’t want to go because you are beat up or maybe things aren’t going your way… So it’s definitely a different kind of personal atmosphere in the sense that you have to show up everyday and play just as well as the next day, or the day before, because there are other guys who are literally fighting for a job.” Professionals all know too well that they can be dropped at anytime, get traded, or get released. “So I think that brings a different aspect into it,” says Taylor.
As part of the USL Pro League, travel is inevitable, “Obviously, we are not traveling first class everywhere, so taking the time on the bus,” he says, requires the team to believe in what they are doing and trust in one another. “You have to buy into the process and really believe in the group… otherwise it can be some long trips,” says Taylor with a laugh and a grin.
90 percent of goalkeeping is in the mind; the keeper is either the scapegoat or the hero. Oftentimes in games the goalkeeper can go ten minutes without touching the ball and then be called upon to make a big play. If he or she does not, then the team is now down one, and the keeper is alone with his thoughts again. For this reason, Taylor was “encouraged in college to keep a journal… In the journal we wrote down a couple key points about our position for that game.” This way he would focus on areas to improve, rather than harping on his mistakes.
On game day, the Kickers can bring upwards of 3,000 fans to Douglas Dale stadium, and some of the best food vendors in RVA. Before games, Taylor prefers to keep to himself, “I like peace, quiet, relaxing kind of stuff before the game, and then in the warm up you can go crazy with head-banging music and things like that. But in the locker room I am not a massive fan of blasting music… it’s more time I just want to close my eyes for a bit, so I can think. Visualization was something I’m into, seeing yourself do certain things. I’m a believer in it.”
When asked what words of wisdom he could offer to someone looking to play at the next level, Taylor wholeheartedly believes that people should not, “be afraid to get turned down, because people will tell you ‘No.’ Because I got told ‘no’ at several places before I ended up in Richmond… I know a lot of guys who are good enough to play but don’t have… the desire, and the passion to not get told, ‘You are not as good as you think you are.’ I think that’s why some guys don’t take the chance; they are afraid it won’t work.”
When asked about his favorite aspect of soccer, Ryan smoothly replies with “I love training,” while laughing as hard as he can. “I love it, it sounds so weird sometimes but I liked the spring in college soccer because all you did was train and lift. I’m a big big fan of the process… I like the process…and I think that’s part of why I got to where I am, and that’s why I enjoyed it a little more.” Ryan contributes his success to his passion and work ethic, “you get to compete every morning, that’s not a bad way to start your day”. There is no doubt that Taylor has managed to retain his childlike love for the game from his younger days, while competing against some of the best.
Outside, of soccer Ryan absolutely loves to, “Kayak fish… I’m a big kayak fishermen… I don’t get paid for that all the time. I go down and fish the Chesapeake Bay… the ocean, and the James River.” Taylor is a big saltwater fisherman, just this past year he went to the Outer Banks and, “caught a personal best, 44” Red Drum…When I’m not at the soccer field I’m floating in my kayak somewhere.”
Ryan Taylor, a man with refined taste. Truly a leader and a role model on the field, with a story to tell.