PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — When Chris Richards received a call about interest from Bayern Munich, his excitement was through the roof.
The interest from the German champions turned into a loan move from FC Dallas, and with some of Bayern’s top stars still away after the World Cup, the 18-year-old is back in the United States ahead of the International Champions Cup matches against Juventus and Manchester City.
“Nobody from Dallas has gotten a call from Bayern,” Richards said Tuesday after training.
“I get a call one day from my technical director at Dallas and he said Bayern wants you to come. I was super ecstatic for it to happen,” Richards said. “It means the world to me. Of course, I’m American and there aren’t many Americans here in Europe, especially at a club like Bayern. I’m soaking it all and trying to make the best of the experience.”
Richards leaned on advice from United States men’s national team players Weston McKennie and Timothy Weah about what to expect during his stint in Germany, with the language barrier being the toughest to overcome.
“I’ve been in touch with Weston McKennie and Timothy Weah, those are my boys, I’ve been in contact with them,” Richards said. “They say just take it one step at a time. It’s not going to happen overnight. I’m not going to come in and make an immediate impact. You just have to kind of trust the process.”
McKennie, especially, has been a key resource for Richards since he took a similar path from Texas to Schalke a year ago.
“Weston, since of course he’s from FC Dallas, he’s doing the Europe thing for the second year now,” Richards said. “He’s had a lot of good things to say. He already spoke fluent German, so that part was already out of the way for him. He said the language was going to be the toughest part and just the speed of play. It takes weeks, maybe months, of training.”
Richards, an Alabama native, credited FC Dallas with bridging the gap from his time playing soccer in a football state to refining his skill set and eventually joining up with one of the most notable clubs in the world.
“There really wasn’t much soccer (in Alabama),” Richards said. “There was like two big teams and that’s it. It was hard sometimes, but eventually I pushed through it. When I was getting older and more people were starting to pick up the sport, I had more people to play with.
“It bridged the gap between academy and first team here. It’s an in-between stage and it’s really helped sharpen my tools and help my speed of play a little bit. It’s a big jump to the first team here at Bayern, but it’s been good.”
Although he’s been at Bayern for a short time, the 18-year-old stands out to new Bayern boss Niko Kovac.
“Chris Richards is very young. He’s talented,” Kovac said through a translator. “He’s working with our youth, but we took him with us because we don’t have all of our players with us. He’s been great. He’s very talented and works very hard. He’s going to grow and it shows he has a lot of talent. I believe with a lot of work and effort on his part, there is a possibility for him to maybe play here or somewhere else as well.”
Richards will not be the only North American talent at Bayern Munich, as the Vancouver Whitecaps just agreed to a big-money move for Alphonso Davies, who wouldn’t be in the first-team setup until after the 2018 Major League Soccer campaign.
“Everything has to work out first. The ink is not dry, yet,” Kovac said. “We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. I don’t know exactly what will happen, but he’s a young player, and young players, when they are as good as him, are very expensive because a lot of clubs are interested in him — and I’m sure because a lot of clubs are interested in him the price might go up.”
Richards is just the latest player to pave the path for more North Americans to join up with big clubs, and with Davies on the way, the influx could continue. It’s something Richards thinks is a long-time coming.
“I think it’s slept for a few years now and we’re starting to make a name for ourselves,” Richards said of the North American market. “The continent of North America is so big, and because it is such a big continent, there is a lot of talent. There [are] a lot of young people that decide to play soccer these days, and I believe that more and more people will come out of the U.S. For example, Pulisic. He came out of the U.S., and he’s very talented, and because of him there might be more people that will decide to play soccer.”