Less than a month ago Chris Richards was playing with an MLS team's U-19 side. Saturday night he was staring down Riyad Mahrez and Manchester City in his first start for Bayern Munich.
The German giants eventually fell 3-2 to their English counterparts, but that didn't do much to dampen Richards' enthusiasm. Already thin on center backs with key players still on vacation after the World Cup, Bayern also elected to rest experienced defender Javi Martinez. That meant a central partnership made up typical fullback David Alaba and the American teenager, making his first start and playing 90 minutes for the Bavarians for the first time.
"I learned around lunchtime and I was super ecstatic," Richards said after the match. "I knew Javi’s knee wasn’t feeling too well so I knew there was a good chance of me starting. Once I got the shot, I was ecstatic."
Richards has been on a rapid rise. Since the six-month loan as part of a partnership between FC Dallas and Bayern was confirmed, he was included in the club's ICC squad, made his Bayern debut last week, came on at halftime against Juventus earlier this week and started Saturday. Even playing with a player like Alaba is something he didn't imagine just months ago, but the Austrian defender has done everything possible to make the Alabama native feel welcome.
"It’s amazing. He’s a world-class player. A lot of my friends here are fans of him. It’s weird being able to sit and talk with him, and all my friends are fanboying over him," Richards said. "It’s been a great experience and he’s a great person and a player."
"It’s pretty hard, but you just have to know that you’re here for the same reason. You can give them respect, but don’t be a fanboy," Richards continued, speaking of keeping his cool around players he grew up watching on TV.
He's making a push to be on TV himself soon.
"I’m starting off with the U-19 team, but there’s always a chance to go forward depending on my progression," he said. "The goal, by December, is to at least maybe get on the roster with the first team for a Bundesliga match, but whatever happens happens."
What happens now is Richards and the rest of the Bayern team flying back to Germany where preparation will begin for Aug. 12's Supercup final against Eintracht Frankfurt. With Martinez back to fitness and players who were at the World Cup like Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng returning to club action, Richards will need a break to get his next first-team start.
"Chris made his jump very well today. It’s obviously not easy for him to join a team that has played together for a long time already," Bayern manager Niko Kovac said in his post-match news conference. "I’m very happy he did a lot of things right and not that many things wrong today. Everyone at FC Bayern is looking forward to the development of this player, but he certainly has to work hard in order to achieve that."
That's what the 18-year-old intends to do as he builds on a solid showing Saturday against Manchester City.
"I wish I could do more. That comes with every game. I think today I had a good performance, but there’s always stuff I can work on," he said. "Hopefully I made a good push for the first team."