Posted on September 5, 2012
This is the first of profiles of three Jamaican internationals who will play against the United States on Friday
By Michael Lewis
Dane Richards certainly has been enjoying life in the fast lane the past several years.
It has helped give the Jamaican international midfielder a college education, a chance to play professionally and an opportunity to play for his country’s National Team.
That fast lane activity has nothing to do with the 28-year-old’s off-the-field life, but what he accomplishes between the lines on a soccer field.
“In Jamaica, most likely everybody is fast,” Richards said.
But outside of Usian Bolt, few athletes are as fast as Richards, especially with a soccer ball.
Richards certainly has made his presence felt since he joined the New York Red Bulls as a second-round MLS draft choice in 2007. After former Austrian international Markus Schopp went down with an early-season injury, Richards was given an opportunity to play. After 5 1/2 seasons in New York, the Red Bulls dealt Richards to the Vancouver Whitecaps earlier this season.
Richards is expected to start when Jamaica hosts the United States in a World Cup qualifier at National Stadium — The Office — on Friday (beIN, 8 p.m. ET).
His soccer roots go back to Jamaica, where Richards discovered the game as a six-year-old in Montego Bay.
“It’s the No. 1 sport in Jamaica,” Richards said. “Everybody was watching the games. I just loved the fans, die-hearted fans in Montego Bay for the team.”
Richards’ old brother played, as did his brother-in-law. His favorite team was Seba United.
“They had some quality players,” Richards said. “Some went to the national team. They were like my role models.”
Like many young Jamaican players, Richards was inspired by the Reggae Boyz, who qualified for the Caribbean country’s first and only World Cup in 1998.
“Definitely,” he said. ‘I started playing. People said ‘You are really good. You should continue.’ And I was like really? ‘Your pace and everything.’ I watched the guys on TV and one day I really wanted to do that.”
No one has to remind Richards that one level of soccer has led to another.
He was taken sight unseen by San Jacinto Junior College in Houston.
“My friends went to the junior college there and told the coach about me,” Richards said. “The coach hadn’t seen me. He just gambled. It paid off.”
That gamble turned into junior college player of the year honors in 2004.
“In Jamaica, when you get a scholarship abroad, it’s really a big deal,” Richards added.
Richards learned to use his speed in college.
“In Jamaica, most likely everybody is fast,” he said. “We just play soccer. With my technique. I try to beat players. When I came to the U.S., one of my coaches said, why do you stop and try to take on people when you can just blow past them? The first game I tried it I realized that i was just pushing past the players. I said, ‘This works.’ ”
That led to an opportunity to play at Clemson University. Coach Trevor Adair saw Richards’ potential in the pros as a right-sided midfielder and played him there to prepare the 5-7, 153-lb. Richards for life after college. He earned second team All-American honors while scoring 23 goals, setting up 17 others in 42 games.
“The coaches always told me, ‘Stay disciplined, keep working hard. You have the tools. You need to refine them. You’ve got the tools to definitely to play professionally,’ ” Richards said. “I just listened to them. I tried to get stronger at the gym. I tried to work on my technique, work on my speed and stay disciplined.”
In 2008, Richards turned heads in the MLS playoffs, particularly in the Red Bulls’ stunning 3-0 upset of the two-time defending MLS Cup champion Houston Dynamo. Richards scored a goal and set up another. The Red Bulls reached MLS Cup, but lost to the Columbus Crew, 3-1.
It wasn’t until late in the 2010 season that Richards started to find himself on a consistent basis. He scored four goals down the stretch and help the Red Bulls clinch a playoff spot. Richards enjoyed a career year in 2001, recording seven goals and creating seven others. He played with confidence and made the correct decisions, whether it was flying down the right flank to take a shot or send a cross into the middle.
There was, however, a drop off this season and Richards went back to his former inconsistent ways of 2009 and part of 2010. When the Red Bulls had an opportunity to acquire midfielder-forward Sebastien Le Toux, they sent the Jamaican to the Whitecaps. Another reason for the trade was that Richards could walk away as a free agent after this season. And, he will as Richards signed to play for Burnley in the English Championship (the second tier of professional soccer there). He will join the side when the winter transfer window opens in January.
Richards has always seen room for improvement.
“You can only can get better. You can’t go down. You can only go up each and every year,” he said in 2009. “It’s going to get better. I climbed the stairs and I was at the door. The Columbus Crew pushed me out. so I’m just going to try to go all the way this year.”
Richards said he was inspired by the Reggae Boyz in 1998, when Jamaica qualified for its first and only world Cup.
“I watched the guys on TV and one day I really wanted to do that,” he said. “The other day I was talking to one of my friends. When I went to high school we usually watched David Beckham on TV. Now I am playing against those guys. It’s unbelievable.”
Richards’ MLS success has open up the door for him to play with the Jamaican National Team. He has made 38 appearances for the side, scoring eight times.
His No. 1 is to duplicate what the Reggae Boyz achieved in 1998, when the Jamaican reached soccer’s promised land for the very first time.
“I got to stay away from school because we qualified for the World Cup. They gave a holiday,” he said. “It was nice. It was a great achievement. The country was less crime. It just brought everybody together.”
On Friday, Richards and his Jamaican teammates have another opportunity to bring the population of the Caribbean nation together with a victory.
Photo: Dane Richards is a key player for the Reggae Boyz. Andy Mead/YCJ
Categories: Caribbean, Jamaica, U.S.A., World Cup Qualifying
Tags: Burnley, Clemson University, Dane Richards, English Championship, National Stadium, New York Red Bulls, Reggae Boyz, Seba United, The Office, Trevor Adair, Vancouver Whitecaps