Less than a decade ago, Bayern Munich seemed to have the next great American hope coming through it’s system. A young winger by the name of Julian Green seemed destined for a breakthrough to the German Champions First Team. He then scored the lone goal in the United States’ Round of 16 defeat against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup, securing him as one of, if not America’s brightest prospect.
Six years later, it seems Green was a false prophet, as he never capitalized upon his potential and his career seemed to languish symbiotically with the United States National Team. Green was virtually out of the national team picture, plying his trade in the second division of German soccer as America failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
But a new hope has arised for American fans in Munich and this one feels different. Chris Richards, like Green only six years ago, seems due for a breakthrough to the Bavarian Clubs First Team and is a highly touted American prospect. But dissimilar to Green, Richards has made a Bundesliga appearance for Bayern. Green made a number of cameo appearances in club competitions, but never made a league appearance, something Richards did on June 20, as the center-back came on as an 84th minute substitute in a 3-1 win against SC Freiburg.
Richards Bundesliga debut, which also happens to be his senior debut was a long time coming for the starlet from Alabama. Richards was the latest of a pipeline of great talents to come from the FC Dallas Academy. The club has produced the likes of Reggie Cannon and Paxton Pomykal who are both youngsters tipped for stardom and before that they produced Kellyn Acosta and Jesse Gonzales, among many other players. In the country’s best academy, Richards was a clear stand out, signing his first professional contract at only 18-years-old in April of 2018; less than a year later, Bayern Munich came calling and Richards was sporting the color red in a new country.
Richards has been a star on Bayern Munich II (Bayern’s reserve side), being a reliable stalwart in the backline, in addition to scoring four goals in 27 appearances, an exceptional rate for a defender.
Richards’ rise in Munich has been a pleasant surprise, especially since defensive reinforcements might be needed sooner than later.
Munich have been aided by a strong defense for decades and Jerome Boateng and Javi Martinez have been two of the most consistent pieces the team has for a long time. But with both of them on the wrong side of 30 and Boateng’s effectiveness diminishing especially, Bayern have been forced to usher in a new generation of defenders led by 24-year-olds Niklas Sule and Lucas Hernandez. But, Sule has struggled with injuries since arriving at Bayern in July of 2017, only making 66 appearances in almost three seasons. This effectively creates an obvious role for Richards to cement himself as the team’s third centre-back within the coming years and an essential part of the club’s future.
Between Bundesliga, domestic competitions and European competitions Bayern can play upwards of 45 games per season, with ageing and injured centre backs all over the squad, it’s hard to fathom that Richards not getting a chance to prove himself.
Richards has yet to make a senior appearance for the men’s national team, but has made 10 appearances for the American U20 team.
The United States seem to have a set top-two at centre back with John Brooks and Aaron Long, with Matt Miazga a distant third. But, Richards could make himself a reliable fourth option, which is the amount of centre backs typically taken to an international tournament. Richards’ frame and upside offers a lot to be excited about, plus the potential experience in Germany gives him a leg up over much of his competition, many of which are competing in the inferior MLS.
Since it seems like Miazga’s career has hit a stalemate and won’t hit the heights once hoped when he transferred to Chelsea, Richards could push to be the team’s third option if he refines his game.
The United States have long seen centre back as a position of weakness, with the likes of Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron never seeming to be enough for the world stage. But with Long, who is one of the most dominant MLS defenders in recent memory and Brooks who has been as consistent as they come internationally, along with an emerging Richards, this could become a position of strength.
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