Chris Richards: Bayern Munich’s USMNT defender coming of age in Hoffenheim
On-loan Bayern Munich defender Chris Richards has gone from boyish hopeful to senior USMNT player – and now Bundesliga goalscorer – in just a few short months at Hoffenheim.
Having spent the second half of last season on loan at Hoffenheim, Richards returned to Bayern this summer with designs on breaking into the first team.
That's easier said than done, however, at a club where the likes of Lucas Hernandez, Niklas Süle and Dayot Upamecano are also competing for a spot at Richards' preferred centre-half position.
So, after one appearance for the reigning record champions in each of the Bundesliga and DFB Cup, Richards was loaned back to Hoffenheim for the season in order to continue his development, with the promise of regular first-team football at the highest level.
Watch: No Easy Road: Chris Richards
As Richards himself explained in a recent interview with Transfermarkt: "With a team like Bayern, you never really know how close you are to the first team or how close you are to making the starting 11.
"After playing for the last few months, I had to go somewhere where I was playing. They respected my decision, and they knew that it was the best not just for me but for them as well, as I will hopefully come back with some 30-odd games.
"All I can do now is go back next summer and give them a convincing argument as to why I should be in the starting XI."
With the 2021/22 Hinrunde drawing to a close, it's safe to say Richards' argument is indeed shaping up to be a convincing one and his stint with Hoffenheim is evidently benefitting all parties.
For one, Hoffenheim have at their disposal a seriously talented young player at the heart of their defence and are currently one of the league's most in-form teams as a result.
Richards has contributed to four clean sheets in 12 Bundesliga appearances so far, helping Hoffenheim into a top-four spot and well on course to secure European football for 2022/23.
The Alabama native is now not only contributing in defence, however. He popped up with a 94th-minute winner against Freiburg as the 21-year-old scored his first Bundesliga goal - and claimed Man of the Matchday honours - in the most dramatic of fashions.
And, just like last year, Richards may see his long-term future at Bayern, but he is fully invested in TSG.
Watch: Chris Richards' stoppage time winner against Freiburg
"Scoring the winning goal in stoppage time in such an important game makes my first goal even more meaningful," he told the club's website after his heroics in Freiburg.
"We feel like brothers [at Hoffenheim], and we give everything for each other on the pitch, you can see that and that is what sets us apart."
Described by Hoffenheim boss Sebastian Hoeneß as "extremely fun to work with", Richards has been an ever-present since returning to Hoffenheim and hasn't missed a Bundesliga fixture following his loan move.
That trust and those regular minutes are allowing Richards to show Bayern boss Julian Nagelsmann and USA coach Gregg Berhalter what he can do. They will both be taking notice, and the latter has already graduated the young centre-back from squad player to first-team regular.
Having made his USMNT debut in November last year, Richards is kicking on. With three substitute appearances to his name by March, Richards made his full debut in the 2-1 World Cup qualifying win over Costa Rica in October and has started two of the USA's last three matches.
"Chris is one of our central defenders of the future," Berhalter told Bild as early as September last year. "I like his development very much. I find the cooperation between Bayern and the USSF [United States Soccer Federation] to be outstanding. Together we’re trying to develop a great player from a great talent. Bayern has a plan with Chris."
Clearly, that plan is working as Bayern watch on with delight at the progress Richards is making both in the Bundesliga and for his national team.
As he did this summer, you can expect Richards to return to Bayern an even better player at the end of his current loan spell. This time around, though, he may well be too good to leave Bavaria again.
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