19- Akira Fitzgerald
Note: The rankings were voted upon prior to the 2022 USL League One season
Establishing stability amid a rebuild is an inherent challenge. Over the last four years since Richmond joined League One, there has been one constant on the field at City Stadium: Akira Fitzgerald. From a turbulent start to becoming a member of the coaching staff and receiving multiple all-League honors, Akira has become part of the framework of the club and a beloved fan favorite. His consistency and excellence in the back has led him to become #19 on our list of greatest Kickers of all-time.
Born in Japan, Akira grew up in Baltimore, earning Player of the Year honors in high school before enrolling at Wake Forest. During his time in college, Akira was a three year starter, twice leading the Demon Deacons to the College Cup. He earned second team all-ACC honors his senior season and graduated in the top 5 of a multitude of categories in the Wake record book. Following his graduation, he stuck around the area and joined the Carolina Railhawks of the NASL, appearing over 80 times from 2011 to 2016. During that time, Fitzgerald had a brief spell with NYCFC, spending half a season with the MLS club in 2015. Following his time in Carolina, he joined the Tampa Bay Rowdies for two seasons, making 13 appearances for the club.
As the Kickers moved into League One in 2019, head coach David Bulow knew he wanted a goalkeeper who could actively play the ball with his feet to establish a possession based style of play. He immediately targeted Akira to fill this role, and the rest is history. In 2019, Akira was one of the few standout players for the club, posting 9 clean sheets. The only drawback from that season was a sending off against Orlando City B late in the season, which is especially hilarious knowing his temperament. Moving forward, he appeared in every game during the 2020 season, finishing tied for first in the league in total saves with 50 in the abbreviated year. Following the campaign, Fitzgerald accepted a role as a player-coach on Darren Sawatzky’s staff, further cementing his role with the club.
2021 proved to be Akira’s strongest season to date as a professional. He played in 28 out of 29 games, posting 10 shutouts and 89 saves. The clean sheets were tied for first in the league and the saves total was second, only 2 off the league leader. In a late August and September stretch that saw the Kickers run off a five game win streak to secure a playoff spot, Akira came up big with three consecutive clean sheets in that time. Following the season, he received Goalkeeper of the Year and first team all-League honors to commemorate a standout season.
2022 proved to be no different. While the raw number of shutouts fell slightly, Akira continued to rack up the saves, finishing the year with 106, 22 more than his closest competition. Standout performances frequently kept the team in the game away from City Stadium, with games at Madison, Northern Colorado, and Greenville standing out as top level games. All of this ultimately saw the Kickers capture their first regular season championship since 2013, and Fitzgerald was named second team all-league and a finalist for Goalkeeper of the Year.
Looking ahead to 2023, all Kickers fans are looking forward to seeing Akira Fitzgerald hopefully returning for a fifth season in goal and continuing to build upon his 100+ appearances for the club. Adding some more trophies to the team and individual ledger would only be a bonus.