TAMPA, Fla. – This season, Richmond Kickers goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald achieved something unique.
For the first time in the history of USL League One or the USL Championship, encompassing the USL’s modern era from 2011 to present, the veteran shot-stopper recorded both the most shutouts and the most saves in a regular season campaign.
On Tuesday, Fitzgerald was honored as the League One Goalkeeper of the Year as his performances played a key role in earning the Kickers their first trip to the postseason since the 2016 USL Championship season.
“Being able to lead the league in clean sheets was an incredible collective effort that we as a group can take great pride in,” said Fitzgerald. “Every player played a role in making sure we were defensively solid each week and I have to give an incredible amount of love to my backline who always put everything they had into each match. I think it also showed how strong our goalkeeping department was to set a single-season record in saves while also helping the team into the playoffs. I want to thank Austin Aviza and Austin Causey for their incredible professionalism and hard work throughout the year because without them it wouldn’t have been possible to achieve these kinds of numbers and success for the club.”
Now in his 11th season in the professional ranks, the award is Fitzgerald’s first year-end award of his career after previously having competed for North Carolina FC, New York City FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies before joining Richmond ahead of 2019 League One season. The 34-year-old recorded 89 saves in the regular season and 10 shutouts in 27 appearances over the regular season with a save percentage of 72.1 percent.
After a season in which numerous goalkeepers in League One’s ranks shone, Fitzgerald was appreciative of the quality of goalkeeping that was present again in the league this season.
“It’s a great honor to win this award because there are many top goalkeepers in this league who had fantastic seasons and will go on and have great careers,” said Fitzgerald. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to have played this long and to win this award at this stage of my career is a great accomplishment. I feel more motivated than ever to continue to push on and achieve more for the club and myself.”
Fitzgerald is no stranger to being busy between the sticks. Last season he finished tied for the league-lead with 50 saves, and he is now the league’s all-time leader in regular season saves with 212 across 69 regular season games over League One’s first three seasons. As he approaches 200 professional appearances for his career – a mark he could reach next season – Fitzgerald looks set to be a key figure for Richmond moving forward.
“It's a great accomplishment for Akira after a very good season,” said Kickers Head Coach Darren Sawatzky. “You need your goalkeeper to keep you in games and Akira has done that consistently over the past two seasons. He is in charge of our goalkeeping department here in Richmond and we look forward to him between the pipes and running training in 2022 and beyond. I cannot think of a human being with more class, and I am happy he is being recognized.”
Fitzgerald received 44 percent of the ballot to earn the award. Union Omaha’s Rashid Nuhu finished second on 34 percent, while the New England Revolution II’s Joe Rice finished third on 22 percent.
The 2021 USL League One Awards were voted on by team technical staffs and executives representing every team.
USL League One Goalkeeper of the Year
2021 – Akira Fitzgerald, Richmond Kickers
2020 – Dallas Jaye, Greenville Triumph SC
2019 – Dallas Jaye, Greenville Triumph SC
2021 USL League One Awards
Goalkeeper of the Year: Akira Fitzgerald, Richmond Kickers
Defender of the Year: Announced November 16
Coach of the Year: Announced November 17
Young Player of the Year: Announced November 17
Most Valuable Player: Announced November 18