Ethan Bryant, former child star, at home again in the Open Cup

Bryant, rail-thin and wispy, with a mop of blonde hair, looked to anyone paying attention like a shooting star in the making. He scored his first goal just months after making his Cup debut. But real life, and its many challenges, quickly intervened. He found himself on the bench more than on the court in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. And in 2021, when San Antonio reached the USL Championship Conference Finals, Bryant was in the Belgian league with Roselare — and again. on the bench.

A change was needed.

“We were looking for a box-to-box midfielder,” said Darren Sawatzky, coach of the Richmond Kickers in USL League 1 (the nation’s third tier of professional soccer and a step up from San Antonio), where Bryant arrived on loan in 2021 and is now on a permanent contract. “Ethan’s work rate is incredible and his ability to go into attack and create chances matches his defensive work. He is young, full of tenacity and his football sense is growing.”

Always just twenty

It’s easy to forget, given the adult issues and adversity Bryant has faced so far, that the player is still only 20 years old. He can drive himself to practice now, sure, but he can’t order a legal beer at Capital Ale House, Gus’ Bar and Grille or any of the other Richmond-area watering holes.

“It’s a super unique club,” said Bryant, who has just recovered from a pre-season injury in time to help the Kickers in their next round of 16 Open Cup game against Charlotte FC freshman in MLS. “The Kickers are the oldest [continually operating, pro] club in the country with tradition and a lot of history.”

Given the ups and downs of his career so far, it’s perhaps no big surprise that Bryant is focusing on sports psychology as he begins college at Northwest Vista in San Antonio this summer. “It was tough. I won’t lie,” he said, reflecting on what he’s had to face so far. “I felt like a lot of things were out of my control and it’s not a fun place. But I’m really happy with the way things have gone since I arrived in Richmond.”

The Kickers, who inaugurated the so-called The modern era of the Open Cup winning the title in 1995, reached the round of 32 this year with minimal difficulty, it must be said. The luck of the draw was with them as they avoided the professional teams in the second and third rounds (victories against amateur teams NoVA FC and NC Fusion U23).

But now, with a place in the rarefied air of the Round of 16 on the line, they will face a determined Charlotte FC who were in fine form in their triumph over Greenville in USL League One in the final round. An MLS opponent with something to prove in their first league and Cup year will be a huge challenge for the Kickers – who sit atop the USL League One standings after five games.

The Virginia-based club is made up of a hodgepodge of players. Some are fresh out of college and others have international experience, like Leonardo Baima and Emiliano Terzaghi, both 29 and heading into the fall of their careers. And then you have a joker like Bryant, with so much experience accumulated at such a young age.

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