Ronaldo Damus’ hat trick powered league-leading North Texas to a 4-0 win over the Richmond Kickers at Toyota Stadium Tuesday night.
With the opportunity to clinch home field advantage in the USL League One Semifinal with a win, North Texas came out of the gates firing. Damus scored the fastest goal in league history, nodding home Richard Danso’s cross from the right flank 16 seconds into the match to give North Texas an early lead.
Damus doubled his tally in the 30th minute after Arturo Rodriguez found him with a cutting pass inside the 18-yard box. Damus collected the pass, taking a brilliant first touch to evade a tackle before slotting a left-footed shot past Akira Fitzgerald to give the hosts a 2-0 lead. Rodriguez’s assist was his league-leading ninth of the season.
The Kickers had two quality chances to cut into North Texas’ lead in the span of five minutes early on in the second half. The first came on a counterattack that ended with Mutaya Mwape curling a left-footed effort on frame, but goalkeeper Jimmy Mauer was able to tip it over the bar.
Minutes later, newly signed midfielder Ryley Kraft started another counterattack that led to three shots on frame in a chaotic scramble inside the penalty area, but Richmond was unable to find the back of the net, with the final shot being cleared off the line by Brecc Evans.
North Texas put the game to bed in the 70th minute, as Rodriguez scored his sixth goal of the season. The goal came after a good piece of interplay inside the 18-yard box, with Damus laying the ball back to Rodriguez. The 20-year old midfielder created space at the top of the box and fired a shot past Fitzgerald to make it 3-0.
Damus completed his hat trick in the 77th minute, picking up the ball inside the 18-yard box and striking a low shot on frame after Rodriguez and Girbran Rayo did the heavy lifting in the build-up. With his hat trick against Richmond, Damus extended his lead in the League One Golden Boot Race to six goals.
With the win, North Texas extends its lead at the top of the League One standings and clinches a home game in the first round of the USL League One Playoffs. North Texas is now set up to claim the League One regular season title with a win or a draw on Saturday in Statesboro against South Georgia Tormenta FC.
The loss puts a dent in Richmond’s playoff hopes, but doesn’t kill them all together. The Kickers will likely need to take points from all of their remaining five matches to have a chance to climb above the playoff line, beginning Saturday against Forward Madison FC at City Stadium.