In final installment of this three-part series on Chris Richards’ journey to becoming a professional soccer player, we corresponded with the player himself, Chris’ mother Carrie Richards, and his coach at Texans SC, Eric Quill, who watched the Alabama native blossom from a wiry prospect to a Bayern Munich signee.
In July of 2018, mere months after FC Dallas and Bayern Munich entered into a partnership, Chris Richards accepted a loan to Bayern. Just five months after joining FC Dallas and dreaming of Major League Soccer, Richards was suddenly a legitimate prospect at one of the most powerful clubs in European soccer.
From FC Dallas to Bayern Munich
Chris Richards had just earned himself, not one, but two unbelievable opportunities, which would be life-changing events for any young player. First, he was offered a full scholarship to the University of North Carolina. He ultimately walked away from it, though, after FC Dallas offered him a homegrown contract after his successful, second trial with the club that had once rejected him. But, more was to come.
Little did Richards know that there were even bigger clubs tracking his progress. He had caught the eye of Jochen Sauer, director of the FC Bayern Campus, Bayern’s youth academy, earlier in the year, when Bayern hosted FC Dallas for a 10-day training session in Munich. Bayern, a dream club for any youngster aspiring to a professional career, worked with FC Dallas on a loan agreement that would see Richards spend the next six months of his life playing in red and white in Bavaria. Carrie Richards remembered that time:
When he found out that he was going on loan there, he was like a little kid on Christmas Eve. It was like a dream come true and he couldn’t believe that this was actually happening to him.
At first we thought he was joking when he told us, but he was like, “No, they really want to sign me.” He was so excited that he was in tears. He was like, “This is what I have strived for my whole life.” There is probably a little part of him that is still in disbelief that he is there and living the dream, when most people don’t even get a chance to go to Germany, let alone live there and get to play on that field.
But there was a catch: the Richards family could not tell anyone the news until the club was ready to make a formal announcement.
It was amazing, but it was hard for him too, because he couldn’t share it with anyone because everything is so secretive. It’s tough to enjoy the moment when you can’t share it.
What a big moment it was when the news became official:
Welcome to the #FCBayern family, @eastmamba! https://t.co/7jgd31h05N— FC Bayern US (@FCBayernUS) January 25, 2019
Living and playing with the stars
Richards would soon move halfway across the world, but the first stop was right at home in the USA: Richards joined Bayern’s roster just in time for the Audi Summer Tour. He played in the International Champions Cup alongside superstar veterans like Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, and Javi Martinez.
The experience has been surreal for the Richards family. Carrie Richards described what it was like to travel to Munich, watch a game at the Allianz Arena, and be engulfed in the match day atmosphere in Bavaria:
We were only there for a short period of time, and they took us to a game and it was a surreal experience. After you’ve gone to a game there, you feel like you never want to go to another game anywhere else. It was just an amazing experience. I’m sure they thought we were crazy people because we were taking all of these pictures. We saw Thiago’s son walking around in one of his jerseys and you are just amazed and feeling like, “What am I doing here?”
Now that he is firmly entrenched in Munich, Richards has been acclimating himself to club. He still lives on the FC Bayern campus, where he has everything he needs, from a bed to world-class workout and training facilities, along with a phenomenal cafeteria.
The timing of Richards’ permanent move has worked out well as it coincided with the arrival of 18-year-old Alphonso Davies from the Vancouver Whitecaps. Not only does it provide Richards with an English speaking teammate at about the same age, but it gives the players a unique bond as they both look to establish themselves on the global stage.
Davies and David Alaba have been very helpful in easing the transition for Chris Richards according to Carrie Richards.
Chris has actually spent a lot of time with Alphonso, and he really likes David Alaba a lot. He spends a lot of time talking with David, and he seems to be a really good mentor to Chris as well.
Via @AlphonsoDavies Instagram story..— MLS Buzz (@MLS_Buzz) February 4, 2019
Chris Richards is definitely showing off those American roots in the gym... @FCBayernUS #USMNT pic.twitter.com/VymTNOIqJu
It was Alaba, of course, who gave Richards the nickname “Texas” when the American first arrived in Germany via Dallas.
It’s funny because [Alaba] will still call him that sometimes. The other week Chris was sitting in the stands and David yelled it out to him. I think it’s kind of like a joke now that they call him that.
Before he can join Alaba and Davies on the first team, however, Richards still has work to do with the U19 squad and potentially also the U23 team, where he received a call-up in December.
A look back at the sacrifices to make it in soccer
The upward journey from Alabama to Germany has not been a straightforward, easy ascent. Chris Richards is only 18 years old, but he has already made sacrifices in pursuit of his dream that few young men his age have to face. Perhaps the biggest sacrifice was family. Carrie recalled his ambivalent feelings about living apart from his family at such a young age:
One day he would love to be a host family for a player, but he also said he would never want to do that to his child, and that he would do everything he could or move anywhere he needed, so he wouldn’t have to do that. Maybe it was a lot harder than he said it was, but it’s like it needed to happen that way to make him stronger to get to this point where he’s in another country all by himself.
Richards himself candidly described how hard it was to leave his family to dedicate himself to soccer in cities ever farther from home. His family’s unstinting support of his ambition carried him through the isolation, though, as he mustered the mental fortitude to drive ever onward. At the same time, Richards was doing exactly what he had wanted to do since he was a little kid. As Chris told us from Munich:
My family didn’t live with me in any of the three cities I’ve played in. Leaving home at 16 was something I really wanted to do, but it was also so hard. I have two younger siblings, and I’d never lived away from my parents. It was really hard for me, especially at a young age, but they were so supportive of me. They know that playing pro soccer has always been a dream of mine, ever since I was five years old. Their support really helped pushed me every day. Sometimes, I remember back in Houston, I’d have days when I’d question if this is really what I want to do because I missed my family so much.
The support that Richards received from his family was not just emotional. The Richards family also had to support their talented son’s dream in financial terms. It is a point that is easy to forget in the case of the rare few who make it all the way to college and professional soccer. Getting your child the opportunity to play at a high level in the US costs real money and forces ordinary families to face difficult decisions. For Carrie Richards, her son was always defying the odds:
Let’s be real: if you want to get a college scholarship for soccer, then you are likely to get a third or a half at best. And I’m not trying to make everything about money, but when you are a middle-class family, that’s a lot of money. It’s obviously easier to get a basketball scholarship somewhere. The chances of getting a full ride to play college soccer are just really slim.
Paying to play soccer is tough. Paying to travel to places every weekend sometimes made you wonder what are we really getting out of this as opposed to high school, which is basically free.
Richards himself acknowledged how much his family helped him. One of his own goals as a professional player is precisely to support them in turn:
My goal is to be successful so that my parents never have to work again, I want to be able to take care of them for the rest of their lives. Their support, in everything I do, has always helped me tremendously.
Destination World Cup 2022?
As Richards’ international stock has soared, his domestic reputation has also grown. Richards was duly called up to the United Sates U20 team, which he helped guide to an appearance in the CONCACAF final. Richards was a key player in that 2-0 victory over Mexico to clinch the US’s second consecutive U20 championship. As Richards progresses through the ranks with Bayern in Germany, he may well compete for a 2022 World Cup roster spot.
Making it with the right opportunities
Carrie Richards admits that it “kind of stinks” that there has been little local publicity about her son’s incredible success. (The Hoover Sun published news of Richards’ loan, but not his contract signing!) Basking in the limelight is not the point, though, but rather the fact that Richards’ story could serve as an inspiration to other aspiring players:
It really can happen to anyone with the right opportunities. He was just an average kid from Hoover, Alabama, who left home at 5’9”. If he wanted to be a good center-back, we were praying to god that he would grow four more inches. Maybe if other kids see that Chris has this chance, it could make a difference and give some other kids the idea to say, “Why not me?”
Eric Quill, Richards’ former coach at SC Texans, echoed that sentiment. There are potential stars in unlikely places that could benefit from the opportunity to play and develop:
You have a lot of places that like Mississippi or Louisiana and a lot of places that have some hidden talent that need the academy environment. For stories like this to be told, I just think it’s about giving opportunities to kids rather than just being so segmented into your area. If you are not growing, you need to be able to seek those other avenues.
Richards himself is still stunned at how everything has worked out:
Honestly, it’s crazy. Three years ago, if you would’ve told me that I was going to go from playing high school and club soccer in Alabama to playing in arguably the biggest club in the world, I would’ve laughed. It’s always been a dream of mine, but I didn’t realize how attainable it was until maybe last year in Dallas, and it’s just a dream come true honestly.
And yet there he is in Munich. It is no accident: Richards has no shortage of supporters who believe in him. First and foremost his family, but now also the Bayern family and others who have touched his life along the way. In Eric Quill’s opinion, as talented as Richards already is, he still has yet to reach the top of his game. Quill summarized his vision of the great things ahead for his former player:
It worked out great and he deserved everything he’s gotten. He’s got a long way to go, but what people need to understand is that he’s not even touched his ceiling. He has not leveled out. In the next few years, you are going to continue to see this kid climbing and climbing.
In the mean time, we’ll be watching how Richards works his way through the professional ranks in Bavaria. If he has proven anything over this journey, it’s that you shouldn’t bet against him. He has the talent and the mentality and the community behind him — especially the support of his family and a couple of coaches who took a gamble on raw, gangly kid from Hoover, Alabama.