RICHMOND, Va. -- It's springtime once again which means it's time for soccer in Richmond.
Stephen Payne, a U.S. Youth National Team player, coaches and is also a winger with the Richmond Kickers.
"We get on each other, you know. That's just the part of being an athlete, being a professional. We all try to push each other to be the best," Payne said.
His teammate Jonathan Bolanos is an attacking midfielder. While Richmond is now home for both players, Payne is originally from Alabama and Bolanos grew up playing soccer in South Florida.
"After I was playing a while, I ended up getting recruited to High Point University in North Carolina," Bolanos said. "It's my first professional season here. And now since I've been here three years, every year has been a stepping stone in the right direction."
His time here has given him the title of the unofficial translator.
"Yeah, I guess that's kind of my title now. So my mom is American and my dad is Colombian," Bolanos said. "I've been able to obviously help the coaches and also it's a way for me to connect with the Spanish-speaking guys on the team and form a good relationship with them."
It's something he does naturally while bridging the gap with his teammates.
"I actually use Spanish and English a lot here on the team even in Richmond to connect with the South American guys that they brought in from Argentina as well as fans at our games that speak Spanish as well," Bolanos said.
However, all normalcy shifted when the world went on lockdown.
"You know, not the best way to start out my professional career. But, you know, during that year I learned so much. And it was even a way that I could connect with my teammates on a different level rather than on the field. So that was great," Bolanos said.
The coronavirus pandemic also shifted the playing field for Stephen Payne.
"The league stopped, all the division stopped and everyone had to go home," Payne said.
But COVID-19 couldn't keep the player on lockdown for long. Soon, he found his way to Richmond and a very familiar soccer home.
"They just showed me the videos of the games and how involved the fans were. And it's very similar to the European atmosphere," Payne said.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama to Nigerian parents, Payne grew up surrounded by athletes.
"They got my dad on a soccer scholarship and my mom on a track scholarship. And so I have two sisters that also play soccer. My oldest sister plays right now in Seville in Spain and my younger sister in West Virginia University," Payne said.
Payne's professional journey would end up taking him overseas.
"I was playing the last four years in Portugal. It was just an amazing experience," Payne said.
He brought that experience to a new city and found a chance to connect with teammates and fans.
"I'm looking forward to just playing and getting back out there," Payne said.
"And I think what the core group that we have returning, it's going to show on the field. The relationship that we've had for the past two years now. And I think it's going to give us an edge on a lot of other teams," Bolanos said.
The Richmond Kickers opener is on Saturday. Gates will open at 5 p.m. and kick-off is at 6:30 p.m.