Justin Che says Bayern Munich’s Chris Richards is inspiring a new wave of young Americans hoping to one day crack the Bundesliga, himself very much included.
Che, 17, is enjoying a five-month loan with Bayern after impressing whilst on trial from parent club FC Dallas earlier in the year. It’s a path Richards - currently on loan at Hoffenheim - took on his way to earning a permanent deal with Bayern and debuting in the Bundesliga last season.
“Chris [Richards] is like a big brother to me,” Che told FC Bayern TV.
“He also comes from FC Dallas, was at Bayern and is now playing in the Bundesliga. Every young player from the academy there is trying to follow the same path he has taken. His development gives me a lot of hope and ambition. Maybe I can also make it in the Bundesliga one day if I work hard.”
Che’s efforts are already being rewarded. Having initially been assigned to the Bayern U19s, the Texan centre-back has since been promoted to the reserve team. He made four appearances between 10 and 26 April, playing the full 90 minutes in German third division matches against Hansa Rostock and FSV Zwickau.
“My debut was so cool,” he recalled. “When the coach sent me to warm up and said I was going on, my heart was so pumped. The hard work paid off.“
We play like brothers and give our best to represent the club. No matter the result, the team and the players will have each other’s back.
“I have a lot still to learn, but one thing is clear: if the team needs me, I’m there. I’m ready.”
Watch: Bayern's Dallas connection
Che is so ready, in fact, that he has made the leap to Bayern’s second string in a fraction of the time it took his idol. Richards, whose one-year loan was made permanent in January 2019, spent a year with the U19s before getting a taste of the first professional level on the German football pyramid early in the 2019/20 campaign.
Playing under Sebastian Hoeneß, Richards proceeded to bolt down a regular place in the side, featuring 30 times as Bayern II won the 3. Liga title. The defender made his Bundesliga debut from the bench in a 3-1 win over Freiburg on 20 June 2020, and made a further seven appearances for the pros during the first half of the current campaign, whilst earning his first USMNT cap.
Since being loaned out to Hoffenheim - where he has been reunited with Hoeneß - Richards has added 11 Bundesliga starts to his report card, as well as a second top-flight assist.
The prospect of emulating Richards is never far from Che’s mind.
“This is a huge chance for me, it’s a learning opportunity,” he explained. “It’s crazy to wear this badge on my chest. The club won the Champions League last year and is currently the best club in the world.
“It’s a blessing and an honour to play here and represent this badge. I'll do everything to help this team.”