USA international Chris Richards has been making a splash on-loan at Hoffenheim for the second successive season and is hoping that his continued develop will see him follow David Alaba's path to the Bayern Munich first team and lead to representing his country at the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
Nearly four years after Richards made the move from Alabama to Munich, he is a regular with the USMNT and playing week-in, week-out in Germany's top-flight - albeit in a second successive loan spell in Sinsheim, rather than in Bavaria.
But both Richards and Bayern see his long-term future at the Allianz Arena and he is in trusted hands at TSG, where he has been recruited by - and reunited with - Sebastian Hoeneß, tha man who made the American a central part of his team as the pair went on to lift the third division title with Bayern's second string in 2019/20.
“Since [Hoeness] has known me from the academy, he knows what works and what doesn’t,” Richards told The Athletic. “Once you first get to know a coach, you know what they do or what they tend to respond better to and with him, it’s always going to be a ‘tough love’ type of thing with me. He’s not afraid to tell me what I’m doing wrong and what I’m doing right. That’s something I like and respect from a coach. He gets the best out of me by just giving it to me straight, no sugar-coating.”
Richards has made five Bundesliga appearances for Bayern in total, compared with 27 for Hoffenheim and the 21-year-old was a mainstay for TSG this season until injury forced him to miss the last three weeks of action.
He is clearly benefitting from regular top-flight football and making his case for a place in Julian Nagelsmann's starting line-up next term, especially with Niklas Süle on his way to Borussia Dortmund in the summer. And Richards is all too aware of the benefits of gaining first team experience at the PreZero Arena, citing former Bayern man David Alaba as his example to follow.
Watch: Chris Richards: Hoffenheim home-from-home
Alaba also spent time on loan at Hoffenheim in 2011 before returning to the Allianz Arena and going on to collecting 431 appearances, 27 trophies and lifting the Meisterschale a joint-record 10 times.
“Everybody knows David’s story,” said Richards. “If I go back to Bayern and take the David Alaba route then that’s probably the best-case scenario.”
Richards' journey has already been a remarkable one; he first joined Bayern as an 18-year-old in 2018, signing initially on-loan with the German champions before they made the Alabama defender's move permanent the following year.
Now, the 21-year-old is part of a wave of American talent plying their trade in the Bundesliga, which has become a hotbed for US players.
Watch: Scally, Che and Paredes: NextGen USA in the Bundesliga
You need only look at the likes of Tyler Adams, Gio Reyna and Joe Scally for examples, as well as John Brooks and Timothy Chandler before them. And Richards believes he and his countrymen plying their trade in Germany are not only improving the perception of US soccer but the overall quality of it, too.
“Even since I got here, I feel like every team we play on the weekend either has an American in the first team or the academy, so I definitely think people’s opinions are growing,” Richards explained. “I think we still kind of have that rep where people are like, ‘Y’all still have a long way to go’, but I think that we’re kind of changing the tide."
With the USA just three games away from qualifying for the 2022 World Cup and their place secured as co-hosts in 2026, there are exciting times ahead for Richards and his country.
He added: “I remember the 2014 World Cup and just watching the US and seeing John Brooks score that header against Ghana. Now I’m playing with them, so it’s just a crazy, crazy moment. It would be even crazier to stand out there listening to the national anthem at a World Cup. That’d be awesome.”
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