Bayern Munich have lost three big-name centre-backs in the past two seasons, and after proving himself on loan, many club fans thought young American Chris Richards could step in to fight for a spot in the line-up .
But after being sold to Crystal Palace this summer, Richards has a new set of challenges and is on a relatively bigger podium.
He will now be tasked with improving a strong defense that conceded the seventh fewest goals in the Premier League last season.
In that process, Richards hopes to capitalize on his fame in a more visible competition to convince the higher echelons of the US men’s national team that he should be a linchpin 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 played more than 2,600 minutes in 30 games and also scored four goals, while Bayern II won the 3. Liga title.
For the next 2020-21 campaign, it was clear to Richards, the coaches and the fans that his talent was being wasted in the third division.
He would make minutes for Bayern Munich’s first team in Bundesliga, Champions League and DFL Supercup matches, but failed to convince then manager Hansi Flick to start talking about David Alaba, Niklas Sule, Jerome Boateng, or Lucas. Hernandez.
It was decided that Richards would go on loan and in the winter he moved to Hoffenheim.
With his talent growing after winning a 3. Liga title, Richards was loaned out 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 scored more than 1,100 minutes in 13 appearances when Hoffenheim finished in the middle.
Bayern may have lost Alaba and Boateng in the summer of 2021, but Dayot Upamecano was brought in and more attention was paid 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 out of action for most of the second half of the season limited his game and minutes.
Richards clocked in over 1,400 minutes in 21 appearances in all competitions.
Despite his injuries, Richards was still regarded as a strong defender, and some of the Bayern Munich fans could have expected him to have another chance in Bavaria – especially after Sule left for Borussia Dortmund.
Instead, Bayern sued and bought Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt from Juventus.
While De Ligt flew to Washington DC to make his debut in a friendly in the United States, the American defender remained in Germany when a transfer was finalized.
On July 27, Richards was moved to Crystal Palace for a fee of approximately $13.2 million, completing his time in Germany for the time being.
Bayern Munich sports director Hasan Salihamidzic sold Richards to Palace this summer
Fighting for game 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 on SB Nation’s website, Bavarian Football Works, Chris Richards’ mother, Carrie, explained what the youngster was going through and his journey to Bavaria.
Richards was born in Hoover, Alabama, in a state obsessed with American football, but grew up with “football” and basketball as a kid, torn apart on what to focus on.
Although his father, an ex-basketball player, wanted Chris to pursue his talents on the hardwood, he sacrificed himself for Chris’s football career when the 2008 financial crisis hit the family hard.
“When the market collapsed, my husband was self-employed and his business went under,” Carrie says. told BFW.
“We had to make serious decisions about what we could and couldn’t afford. Football was at the top of the list of things we couldn’t afford, but my husband insisted that football should be a priority [for Chris]and we sacrificed other things to pay the dues, travel, etc.”
That sacrifice led to trials with the Olympic Development Team, a failed tryout with FC Dallas, and a phenomenal development at the level of youth club football.
That development led to another trial with Dallas, this time a successful one.
Shortly after earning his way into the FCD academy, the MLS club agreed to a partnership with Bayern Munich.
A chance to train for 10 days in Munich caught Richards’ attention and led to a contract
During a 10-day training session in Munich as part of that partnership, Richards caught the eye of Bayern’s youth academy director Jochen Sauer.
Due to his age, Richards was unable to play for the first team of FC Dallas, so he was loaned to Bayern to train for six months with the best young talent at the Rekordmeister.
“When he found out he was 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 this was really happening to him.”
He impressed the coaches enough to sign a contract with the Bayern U19s, and the rest is history.
Crystal Palace manager Patrick Viera seems confident in his young defender
Unlike the latest moves he’s made, Richards has become more of a proven product, but not exactly a finished product.
What will most benefit his career is playing time at the highest level, something Bayern did not want to give him.
After sparking an interest at Hoffenheim for a permanent move, Richards opted for a new country and a new challenge after five years in Germany.
Now he moves from the south of Germany to Selhurst Park, where he must face stiff competition from the Crystal Palace centre-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 over the four seasons he was there.
Now the Palace centre-back 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 replace Andersen or Guehi remains to be seen, but reports from training sound promising.
Even in the few games he played for the Eagles, Palace manager Patrick Viera has sung Richards’ praises.
“It was really good to give him his first 15 minutes. He is a solid defender who likes to defend, especially in a one-on-one situation. He’s really comfortable with the ball,” Viera said after a recent pre-season game against Montpellier
“Obviously he needs time to get used to what we do and how we want to play. He is an important asset to the football club.’
Can Richards’ work in England convince Gregg Berhalter enough for a World Cup squad?
Richards will hope he gets enough playing time to cement a 2022 FIFA World Cup roster spot that already appears to be his.
But better performances could enhance his role in the team as the United States enter Qatar with one question mark in their centre-back.
As the USMNT secured their spot in the tournament, the central defense looked locked in by Nashville SC’s Walker Zimmerman and Atlanta United FC’s Miles Robinson.
However, that was thrown into the air when Robinson suffered a horrific Achilles injury against Chicago Fire FC in May.
Syracuse University’s product is not expected to be healthy in time for the World Cup, which has led to some experimentation in that runner-up spot.
In the last four games the USMNT has played, manager Gregg Berhalter rolled out starting grids with Zimmerman, Aaron Long of the New York Red Bulls and Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers.
Richards made just two appearances in 2022, up from five the previous year.
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, whom he watches and holds dear.
Berhalter told SportsBild in 2020, he regarded Richards as ‘one of our central defenders of the future’.
The manager will be looking forward to seeing Richards perform 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 like to see that. Crystal Palace is a great club, great stadium, great fans. Patrick Vieira is a great coach. Love it from all sides.’