Thriving at Bayern, Richards eager to face Mexico in CONCACAF final
In 2018, Chris Richards has elevated his game at Bayern Munich and has become the anchor of the U.S. U-20 team's backline. Now the Alabama native is set to take on Mexico for the first time in the CONCACAF final.
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedCHRIS RICHARDS has seen his stock soar this year as he has impressed on his loan from FC Dallas to Bayern Munich where he is a standout central defender for the club’s U-19 team. During preseason he even played with the legendary club’s first team.
November 21, 2018
November 21, 2018
The Alabama native has done a lot, but there is still one big goal he wants to accomplish this year and Wednesday night will give him that opportunity. To this day he has never played Mexico at any level and on Wednesday the U.S. U-20 team will face its archrival in the U-20 CONCACAF final.
“I've never played Mexico before,” Richards told ASN from Florida. “You see it with our first team and the dislike we have for each other. I just want to bring that onto the field and show we're the most superior team in CONCACAF. No matter who they bring on the field, we want to beat them.”
The U-20 team has indeed looked stellar so far throughout a very grueling tournament. It comfortably won its group against mostly minnows and then qualified for the 2019 U-20 World Cup last Friday when it routed Costa Rica 4-0. Richards was added to the team after the group stage and made his tournament debut in a 1-0 win over Honduras which sent it to Wednesday’s final.
Joining the team mid-tournament was tricky for Richards but he had become familiar with the team in the camps leading up to the CONCACAF tournament. At first, he was unsure if he was going to be able to participate because Bayern Munich did not seem inclined to release him. In the end, the club agreed and the decision meant a lot to Richards.
“The team did amazing throughout the group stage and I wanted to bring my game to the team and continue to push people,” Richards said. “It's great to be stateside and hopefully make history with back-to-back CONCACAF titles. I've always wanted to represent the United States at competitive levels and now I am getting my chance to do it. I was so happy to get the call but at first I was uncertain if I was ever going to get it. Bayern wasn't really talking about releasing me.”
Now with the team having secured its spot at the World Cup next year in Poland and having impressed so far in the cycle, there is talk about how far this team can go. Since 2015, United States youth national teams have begun to achieve consistently better results than in previous years.
At the 2015 U-20 World Cup, the U.S. team advanced to the quarterfinals where it defeated Colombia and lost to eventual Champions Serbia in a shootout. Then in 2017, the U-20 team won CONCACAF for the first team and returned to the quarterfinals, but this time the team did so without the two best players from its age-group in Weston McKennie and Christian Pulisic.
In 2019, the U-20 team is likely to be without top age-eligible players like Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent, and Tim Weah. But even without these players, Richards is extremely bullish on the team’s chances to go further than any other recent U.S. youth team and he favorably compares the team’s talent with what he sees on a daily basis in Germany.
“Next year you'll see us past the quarters, no question,” Richards said with a laugh. “The sky is the limit. I haven't played with a team like this. We are attacking, we are finishing, we are defending, we have amazing keepers. Everyone here can really handle their own and do it at a high level conistently. It's really exciting to see. I think everybody on this team has European potential - whether they're there or not right now. I see it, for sure.”
“We have a very deep team,” he added. “I know people think of Americans as slouches coming from CONCACAF who don't beat anybody in qualifying. But we can hold our own against any team and we're going to give them a run for their money no matter who it is.”
As 2018 has laid the foundation for the start of his career, 2019 will be an important transition. In addition to the U-20 World Cup, he will aim to continue his progress at Bayern Munich as the loan has so far gone according to plan.
After playing with the club’s first team in high-profile preseason games, he has also been somewhat of a regular at the club’s first-team training sessions. That kind of elite environment tests Richards who takes to heart that he is not just representing himself, but Americans as well.
“It's kind of nerve-wracking at first because it's a big responsibility,” Richards said of playing friendlies with Bayern’s first team. “I've never played a first-team game before - at Dallas I've never done that. I also had the responsibility of being an American and having to show the world that Americans can play. I feel like I put that responsibility on myself to showcase myself and get my name out there for our country. Also being a younger player and the tradition that Bayern has, they don't like to lose. They're a historic team. I wanted to bring all of that onto the field.”
As for what comes next, Richards is uncertain. He is only at Bayern on loan but ASN understands there is an option to buy for the German club. Still, he prefers to not get involved with the discussions between Dallas and Bayern and instead focus on soccer and reaching his potential.
“It weighs on my mind a little bit,” said of his loan status. “There is some stuff happening behind the scenes. I am not sure what it is yet. I let my agents handle it and let Dallas speak with my agents and Bayern.”
“This all is what I only dreamed of just a few months ago,” he continued. “It's been amazing for me and I am embracing a new culture, learning a new language, and learning a new style of play. The Germans are way more technical. It's really helped develop me on the field and off the field."