Crystal Palace’s Chris Richards hopes to make a name for himself in England and with the USMNT

Bayern Munich has lost three big-name center backs over the last two seasons, and after proving himself on loan, many fans of the club thought the young American Chris Richards could step in to fight for a spot in the lineup.  

But after being sold to Crystal Palace this summer, Richards has a new set of challenges and is on a comparatively larger stage.

He now will be tasked with improving a strong defense that conceded the seventh-least amount of goals in the Premier League last season.

In that process, Richards will hope to take advantage of his exposure in a more visible league to convince the higher-ups of the U.S. Men’s National Team that he should be a lock for a roster spot in the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. 

Chris Richards faces a new challenge in a new league after being sold this summer

After moving from Dallas to Munich at such a young age, Richards impressed the coaches at FC Bayern II, then playing in Germany’s third division. 

He logged over 2,600 minutes across 30 games – bagging four goals as well – as Bayern II went on to win the 3. Liga title. 

For the following 2020-21 campaign, it was apparent to Richards, the coaches, and the fans was his talent was being wasted down in the third division. 

He would log minutes for the Bayern Munich first team in Bundesliga, Champions League, and DFL-Supercup matches, but wasn’t able to convince then-manager Hansi Flick that he should start over the likes of David Alaba, Niklas Sule, Jerome Boateng, or Lucas Hernandez. 

It was decided that Richards should go out on loan, and in the winter, he moved to Hoffenheim.  

Richards won a 3. Liga title with FC Bayern II

His talent led to loans at Bundesliga club Hoffenheim

With his talent growing after winning a 3. Liga title, Richards was loaned to Hoffenheim

His arrival was perfectly timed for a Hoffenheim team struggling to balance the squad as they competed in the UEFA Europa League. 

He logged over 1,100 minutes in 13 appearances as Hoffenheim finished mid-table.

Bayern may have lost Alaba and Boateng in the summer of 2021, but Dayot Upamecano was brought in and more attention was given to youngster Tanguy Nianzou. 

At the end of the transfer window, Richards was loaned back to Hoffenheim, where a series of injuries that kept him hurt for most of the second half of the season restricted his play and minutes.

Richards clocked over 1,400 minutes in 21 appearances in all competitions.

Despite his injuries, Richards was still considered a strong defender, and a portion of the Bayern Munich fanbase could have expected him to get another chance in Bavaria – especially after the departure of Sule to Borussia Dortmund.

Instead, Bayern pursued and purchased Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt from Juventus. 

As de Ligt flew to Washington, D.C. to make his debut in a friendly in the United States, the American defender stayed back in Germany as a move was finalized. 

On July 27th, Richards was moved to Crystal Palace for a fee around $13.2m, finishing off his time in Germany for now. 

Bayern Munich sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic sold Richards to Palace this summer

Bayern Munich sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic sold Richards to Palace this summer

Fighting for playing time, roster spots, and respect is nothing new to Richards, who grew up in a part of the United States obsessed with a different form of football.

In a three-part interview with SB Nation website Bavarian Football Works, Chris Richards’ mother Carrie detailed what the youngster went through and his journey to Bavaria. 

Richards was born in Hoover, Alabama in a state obsessed with American football, but grew up playing ‘soccer’ and basketball as a kid, torn between which to focus on. 

Even though his father, an ex-basketball player, wanted Chris to pursue his talents on the hardwood, he sacrificed for Chris’s soccer career when the 2008 financial crisis hit the family hard.

‘When the market crashed my husband was self-employed and his business went under,’ Carrie told BFW. 

‘We had to make serious decisions about what we could and couldn’t pay. Soccer was at the top of the list of things that we couldn’t afford, but my husband insisted that soccer had to be a priority [for Chris], and we sacrificed other things to be able to pay the dues, travel, etc.’

That sacrifice led to trials with the Olympic Development Team, an unsuccessful tryout with FC Dallas, and phenomenal development in the youth ‘elite’ club soccer level.

That development led to another trial with Dallas, this time a successful one.

Soon after he earned his way into the FCD academy, the MLS club agreed to a partnership with Bayern Munich.  

A chance to train in Munich for 10 days drew attention to Richards and led to a contract

A chance to train in Munich for 10 days drew attention to Richards and led to a contract

During a 10-day training session in Munich as part of that partnership, Richards caught the attention of Bayern’s youth academy director, Jochen Sauer. 

Due to his age, Richards wasn’t able to play for the FC Dallas first team, so he was loaned to Bayern to train with the best young talent at the Rekordmeister for six months.

‘When he found out that he was going on loan there, he was like a little kid on Christmas Eve,’ said Carrie.

‘It was like a dream come true and he couldn’t believe that this was actually happening to him.’ 

He impressed the coaches enough to sign a contract with the Bayern U19’s, and the rest is history. 

Crystal Palace manager Patrick Viera seems confident in his young defender

Crystal Palace manager Patrick Viera seems confident in his young defender

Unlike the last moves he’s made, Richards has become more of a proven commodity, but not exactly a finished product. 

What will benefit his career the most is top-flight playing time, something Bayern was unwilling to give him.

After drawing interest from Hoffenheim for a permanent move, Richards chose a new country and a new challenge after spending five years in Germany.

Now he’s moving from the south of Germany to Selhurst Park, where he should face some stiff competition from Crystal Palace’s center backs.

Palace let four central defenders go – five defenders in total – in the 2021-22 season, including Mamadou Sakho, arguably the face of the team’s defensive identity for the four seasons he was there.

Now, Palace’s center back roster is in a transition period anchored by 26-year old Dane Joachim Andersen and 20-year old Marc Guehi, with contributions from James Tomkins and Nathan Ferguson.

Whether the 22-year old will be able to supplant either Andersen or Guehi is yet to be seen, but reports out of training sound promising. 

Even in the few games he’s played for the Eagles, Palace manager Patrick Viera has sung Richards’ praises.

‘It was really good to give him his first 15 minutes. He’s a solid defender who loves to defend, especially in a one-v-one situation. He’s really comfortable with the ball,’ Viera said following a recent pre-season fixture against Montpellier

‘He needs time, of course, to get used to what we are doing and how we want to play. He’s an important asset for the football club.’ 

Richards only has two USMNT caps in 2022

U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter needs to set his roster

Can Richards’ work in England convince Gregg Berhalter enough for a World Cup roster spot?

Richards will hope that he gets enough playing time to solidify a 2022 FIFA World Cup roster spot that seems to already be his.

But better performances could improve his role in the team, as the United States go into Qatar with one question mark in their center back pairing.

When the USMNT clinched their spot in the tournament, the central defense seemed locked up by Nashville SC’s Walker Zimmerman and Atlanta United FC’s Miles Robinson. 

However, that was thrown up in the air when Robinson suffered a gruesome Achilles injury against Chicago Fire FC back in May.

It’s expected that the Syracuse University product will not be healthy in time for the World Cup, which has led to some experimenting in that second spot.

In the last four matches the USMNT played, manager Gregg Berhalter rolled out starting lineups featuring Zimmerman, Aaron Long of the New York Red Bulls, and Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers.

Richards, meanwhile, only managed two appearances in 2022, down from five the prior year.

A move to Crystal Palace could help Chris Richards prove his talent to the world

A move to Crystal Palace could help Chris Richards prove his talent to the world

That’s not to say Berhalter doesn’t trust Richards, who he’s kept an eye on and views highly.

Berhalter told SportBild in 2020 he viewed Richards as ‘one of our central defenders of the future.’

The manager will be looking forward to seeing how Richards performs at Crystal Palace, a club Berhalter played for during the 2001-02 season.

‘I’d love to see Chris go there,’ Berhalter said before the move became official.

‘I’d love to see that. Crystal Palace is a great club, great stadium, great fans. Patrick Vieira is a great coach. Love it from every side.’ 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk

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