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American prospect Chris Richards describes playing alongside Arjen Robben

The FC Dallas center-back has leaped into training with the first team at Bayern Munich’s Säbener Straße headquarters.

Chris Richard poses with Bayern Munich U19 coach Sebastian Hoeness.
Chris Richard poses with Bayern Munich U19 coach Sebastian Hoeness.
FC Bayern München

Life moves fast when you are an incredibly gifted 18-year-old center-back invited back to Munich on a six-month loan. For Chris Richards, the FC Dallas prospect who impressed FC Bayern Campus director Jochen Sauer at a trial in April, that has meant being thrust into the fire of training alongside Bayern Munich legends Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery.

In a wide ranging interview with American Soccer Now*, Richards gave fans a glimpse of how it feels to play with a someone of Robben’s caliber and watching him shoot a “Robbena” from up close:

I was on the same team as Arjen Robben for a small sided game we did in training. You always hear about his wicked left foot. But it is completely different when you see it in person on the same field. I mean he just takes a touch inside and it is automatic — he goes top 90 every single time. It is so crazy.

If you don’t know (and I admit I wasn’t sure), “top 90” refers of course to the 90 degree angle of the top corner of the goal.

Richards also described how intimidating both Robben and Ribery can be on the pitch, but also how they open up even to young players once they recover from the initial shock of sharing the pitch and playing with them:

It’s been a really amazing and humbling experience so far. Being able to train on the same field as Robben and Ribery, it’s something you can only dream about — but it’s a reality now. I am actually training with these guys and interacting with them. At first it was a little nerve-wracking but once they see you can play, they begin to open up to you both on and off the field.

The Hoover, Alabama, native is benefiting from the pressure they bring to bear on him and all the players around them. Richards professed nothing but respect for the advice the duo have offered him, although it also sounds as if Robben and Ribery might express themselves rather bluntly at times:

Of course, they’re big time professionals and they expect a lot out of you. It really drives you to become a better player. They understand that even if sometimes it seems like they’re being hard on you. They know what they’re talking about. They’re amazing players but they make other players around them amazing.

For Richards, playing in Europe is a dream come true. He was not even a center-back until he was thrust into the role. Originally a left-winger, Richards had moved to left-back by 2014, but when all the starting central defenders were injured at a major tournament, his coach asked Richards to play there.

At first I was like, “There’s no way. There is too much pressure. I am the last player before the goalkeeper. I don’t know if I can do this.” But right after the game began, I started connecting passes and I fell in love with the position. The rest is history.

Now the young man is modeling his game on that of Jerome Boateng and will undoubtedly meet his inspiration in the near future, when Boateng returns to Munich. Richards was aware of FC Dallas’s special agreement with Bayern Munich when he decided to sign with them. The arrangement seems to be a win-win for both Richards and Dallas:

One of my plans was to get to Europe as fast as possible which I think that is any soccer player’s plans since Europe has the best leagues. Dallas understood that and realized that. Even though I couldn’t be added to the first team roster until 2019, they understood that I needed games and what better way than to send me to Bayern in the best youth league in the world?

Dallas has a reputation of promoting homegrown players to their first team — another major factor in Richards decision to sign with them. Wherever Richards’s path takes him — to the first team in Dallas, to Europe, or to the US Men’s Team, or some combination, the future looks bright.

* In a prior version of this story, a link to Brian Sciaretta’s interview with Chris Richards at American Soccer Now was not properly attributed. We apologize to Sciaretta and American Soccer Now for this oversight.

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