A teenage American centre-back at Hoffenheim who was once on loan at Bayern Munich from partner club FC Dallas? If that sounds like déjà-vu, it's because Chris Richards trod the very same path before 18-year-old Justin Che followed him in 2021.
Club: FC Dallas
Country: USA (three caps for U20s)
He may still be just 18, but Che already stands at 6'1" and weighs in at 165 pounds. The right-footer, who hails from Richardson, Texas, joined the Dallas academy in 2009 at the age of six, and quickly progressed through the ranks, scoring 18 goals in 84 appearances at youth level. He became the seventh-youngest player in the club's history to sign a professional contract when he did so in October 2020, agreeing a three-year deal.
Although primarily a centre-back, Che can also play at right-back, and he made his professional debut for North Texas Soccer Club - Dallas' feeder team - on 25 July 2020. He started all 16 games for North Texas that year, providing one assist. Che also led the team in minutes played (1,427), clearances (39), blocks (10), duels (148), duels won (73), aerial duels (65), aerial duels won (34) and total passes (848). He was part of the USA U16 side coached by ex-Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern forward Landon Donovan that won the UEFA Development Tournament in the Czech Republic in September 2019, beating Hungary 1-0. In total. Che has made four appearances for the USA as a youth international.
In January 2021, he joined five other Dallas academy players, Edwin Cerrillo, new Augsburg forward Ricardo Pepi, Dante Sealy, Brandon Servania and Thomas Roberts, on a three-week trial training period at Bayern’s Campus Academy in Munich. Che, who also holds a German passport, was awarded a five-month loan spell at Bayern until the end of the 2020/21 season where he has been starring for the club's second team in the third tier of German football. He made a total of eight league appearances for Bayern's reserve side before heading back to Dallas in the summer. The teenager's stint at Bayern earned saw him receive his first senior USMNT call-up in May 2021 for a friendly against Switzerland but he is yet to make his full USA debut.
Watch: Bayern's Dallas connection
Plays a bit like: Jerome Boateng
Quick and strong with an almost languid stride, Che is as comfortable in possession as he is at taking the ball from the opposition. Ever eager to play it forward to a teammate and with an excellent reading of the game, there is more than a passing resemblance with the man he once shared a training ground with at FC Bayern Campus.
Did you know?
Che is multilingual and speaks English, German and Russian, while he could represent the US as a senior international through birth, Germany or Russia through his mother, as well as Cameroon courtesy of his father. "My mother has a Russian and a German passport, I also have a German and a British one," said Che previously. "My father's from Cameroon. Football's in my blood. I love this sport and I work hard for it." He would also frequently visit his grandparents who live in Mannheim, which is less than an hour's drive from his home for the next 18 months in Sinsheim.
What they're saying
"Chris [Richards] is like a big brother to me. 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 speaking in April 2021 about his new teammate, fellow FC Dallas alumni and compatriot, Chris Richards
"Justin is a very talented player who can play across the defence and impresses on the ball with his speed and proficiency." - director of first-team football at Hoffenheim Alexander Rosen.
"Justin has incredible potential and made such a great impression on Säbener Strasse." - USA head coach Gregg Berhalter
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