With six FC Dallas players currently training at Bayern Munich, could we soon see another Chris Richards at the club and the next talented young American joining him in the first team?
It may sound far-fetched, but the partnership agreement between Bayern and Dallas makes it by no means impossible.
Signed in February 2018, the objective of the deal was a “focus on the promotion of talent and the exchange of training philosophies,” according to a statement at the time from Bayern.
If that sounds like vague marketing speak, in reality it has already proved advantageous for both clubs. For example, Bayern have shared their considerable know-how in terms of structure, youth development and training, among other topics.
Watch: Gio Reyna, Richards and the Americans impressing in the Bundesliga
“It’s a great relationship," Dallas president Dan Hunt told MLSsoccer. "The idea exchange, they’ve helped us with scouting. A lot of these partnerships you’ve heard of in the past in the MLS have really been a handshake, nothing more, no substance to them. This has a ton of substance, including multiple visits. Frankly, Bayern Munich is regularly here."
For instance, in January 2019, the Bayern reserve side travelled to the USA and spent a week-long training camp at Dallas’ Toyota Soccer Center in Frisco, Texas, and even played a pre-season friendly against the first team, which Dallas won 4-0.
For Bayern, there are also clear benefits. A partnership with an MLS club is a valuable commodity as major European clubs seek to expand their visibility across the globe and specifically in the growing US soccer market.
But, as Richards has shown, there are on-field gains for the Bavarians too. The Alabama native spent 10 days training in Munich in May 2018, and impressed to such an extent that he was soon offered a one-year loan deal. He continued to shine, and his stay became a permanent one in January 2019, when he was handed a long-term contract.
The 6’2” centre-back has since helped the reserves win the German third division title, while this season alone he has made three Bundesliga appearances for Hansi Flick’s side – starting one and providing an assist for Robert Lewandowksi. He has also enjoyed another three outings in the UEFA Champions League, and become a full USA international.
“He’s very fast, he can turn very quickly and he can jump like a basketball player,” said Bayern Campus director Jochen Sauer. “Those skills make him different.”
Dallas academy director Chris Hayden is equally enthusiastic: “Chris has grown up with lots of other youth players. He’s a prime example of how a player from our youth set-up can reach the next step in Germany.”
The defender is just one of a number of Dallas players to have been to Munich to train with the youth and reserve teams. Bryan Reynolds, Paxton Pomykal and Reggie Cannon – now also a part of Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT – were among the first to train at Bayern in December 2017.
And now, just over three years later, the next gifted crop of Texans are in Munich, eager to learn and show what they can do.
Edwin Cerrillo (20), Justin Che (17), Ricardo Pepi (18), Dante Sealy (17), Brandon Servania (21) and Thomas Roberts (19), who was with Richards on his initial 10-day stint in 2018, are currently at the Bayern Campus for a three-week spell between 6 - 29 January.
“We have six boys here training with the U19s and the U23, the second team,” Sauer continued. “It’s always a good time to see the development of the players. Usually we have players who were here last summer or last winter so we can see their development.”
At 21, Servania is the oldest of the sextet and also the furthest along in his career. This is his second training stint in Munich, following a 10-day spell in October 2018. A defensive midfielder by trade, he has made 30 MLS appearances to date, registering two goals and an assist, while he is also a full USA international after making his debut for Berhalter’s side in a 1-0 friendly win over Costa Rica in February 2020. Incidentally, he is from Birmingham, Alabama – the same town as Richards.
Roberts is also a central midfielder, although a touch more versatile in that he can operate in a defensive role as a No.6, as a box-to-box engine as a No.8 or even more creatively as a No.10. He clearly has something Bayern like, as this is now his third trip to Munich in the last few years. With six appearances in the MLS and three caps for the USA U20s, big things are expected of the Arkansas native.
Cerillo, too, is a central midfielder, and is in Munich for the second time after a two-week spell in November 2019. The USA U23 international has 14 MLS games under his belt to date, although he spent most of last season in the second tier at North Texas SC, scoring once in seven games.
As the only striker in this bunch, Pepi is arguably the most exciting prospect, especially as he only turned 18 on 9 January. He made his MLS debut at the age of 16 in June 2019 against Toronto, and was a regular off the bench for Dallas last season, recording two goals and an assist in 17 top-flight games. The 6'1" forward also has six goals in 17 caps for the USA U17s – all of which explains Bayern taking a closer look at him for the second time, having first done so in November 2019. After all, 32-year-old Lewandowski can't go on forever…
And given Bayern’s fondness for flying wingers, it is little wonder Sealy is being monitored up close. The left-winger became the second-youngest player to sign a professional contract for Dallas when he did so in February 2019 at just 15, and he made his MLS debut in September 2020, the first of five appearances so far. Sealy also has two caps for the USA’s U20 side, despite the fact he doesn’t turn 18 until April.
Rounding out the group is the youngest of them all, 17-year-old Che. Not 18 until November this year, the centre-back signed professional terms with Dallas in October 2020, but played for feeder team North Texas SC last season, starting all 16 games for the side.
And so, very much in the same way that Christian Pulisic paved the way for young Americans to move to Germany, Richards is blazing a trail for his countrymen at Bayern.
"We want to identify the next Chris Richards," concluded Sauer. "And give them the opportunity to continue their career here in Europe."