Brent Richards balances pro contract and studies with Timbers
Each step up the soccer ladder brings a new level of competition and a different level of intensity. Newly signed forward Brent Richards has always had the requisite skill to make each leap, but now he faces his most difficult jump — making the transition from college to the professional ranks.
Inked as the Timbers initial Homegrown Player on Jan. 4, 2012, Richards is presented with an opportunity to ply his trade for the team he supported as a child.
“I’d come out to the games when I was little. I’ve always been a Timbers fan, they’ve always been my team,” said Richards, who was born in Portland and grew up just across the border in Camas, Wash. “I always enjoyed them. I’d always go (to games) with my friends, my parents and stuff.”
While looking forward to the chance of playing in front of the raucous Timbers Army, Richards said he never did stand with the Army during games as a youth.
“My parents weren’t as hardcore fans as the Timbers Army so we sat over there,” he said with a laugh while pointing to the west grandstand of JELD-WEN Field.
Richards is no stranger to the stadium both as a fan and as a player. He played several matches on the pitch during three years with the Timbers U-23s in United Soccer Leagues’ Premier Development League (PDL), including helping lead the team to an undefeated, championship season in 2010. He registered 26 goals and 12 assists in 37 games over three seasons with the U-23s, including earning league MVP in 2010.
“(Being signed as a Homegrown Player) was something that I was really happy with,” Richards said. “There was a little bit of uncertainty going into the draft and going the combine route. I was real happy to get signed as a homegrown and have it be in Portland. I’m really happy to be here.
Richards, 21, recently closed out his final collegiate season at the University of Washington leaving the program as one of the most decorated student-athletes in school history.
A two-time all-conference first-team selection, Richards was named the 2011 Pac-12 Men’s Soccer Scholar-Athlete of the Year and was a First-Team Capital One Academic All-American in 2011.
His career numbers speak to his unwavering presence as a pivotal member of the Huskies squad with final tallies of 31 goals and 15 assists in 72 games — leading the team in scoring, goals and game-winning goals in each of his four seasons. An all-conference honoree in each of his four seasons, Richards ranks among the school’s career leaders in goals and points (77).
“I’ve seen him play in PDL and in college, he’s a super young talent,” Timbers head coach John Spencer said. “The main aim is to keep him here for a long time and make it an enjoyable experience and hopefully help him have the best career possible.”
While getting his feet wet with the team during preseason training camp, Richards is also working on finishing his final quarter of schoolwork at UW in order to earn his bachelor’s degree in economics.
Richards was able to attend classes in Seattle for the first three weeks of the quarter, but traveled back home once training camp got underway.
“I’ve got a thing worked out with the coaches where I’ll go back every once in a while for class here and there and then go for my midterms and finals,” Richards said. “It should be good, I’ve got some friends that will take notes for me in class then I’ll be reading my books here. It should be doable, my professors are on board with it.”
He’s also minoring in Spanish and he’ll have ample time to converse with newly-signed Colombians Hanyer Mosquera and Jose Adolfo Valencia.
“Last year, I studied abroad in Ecuador. I haven’t spoken it as much since then, but my Spanish is decent,” Richards said. “I sit next to Hanyer (Mosquera) and we had a little chat the other day. I like being able to communicate with them.”
Richards’ path to the Timbers first team goes back seven years to when he was a young U-14 player for Eastside United FC—a youth club started and run at the time by current Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson.
“I came out to a couple of training sessions [then] and Gavin came and talked with me and my family,” remembered Richards. “He thought that I had a lot of potential and he was hoping that I’d come over and play for his club at Eastside. Gavin sold us on that and I ended up playing for him for four years there. I learned a lot from him. It was definitely where I started to learn a lot more about soccer.”
Richards time with Eastside was punctuated by a youth club state championship as well as two Washington state high school championships (2006, 2008) while in Camas.
After moving on to continue his successful career with the Washington Huskies, Wilkinson came calling again. In 2009, he contacted Richards about playing for the inaugural Timbers U-23s development team.
“I came home for three summers in a row to play for that team,” he said. “Gavin really insisted that I play on that team to work on my development."
Richards is currently still living in Camas, so the comforts of home after a physical day of training will allow Richards time to relax and focus — at least for the time being.
“Some days it’s like a 70 minute commute so I don’t know how long I can deal with that,” Richards said. “I’ll probably move into town eventually.”
While Richards was noticeably enthusiastic about being signed by the Timbers during a recent interview following training, head coach John Spencer cautioned that at times it is prudent to closely monitor the development of young players.
“He’s pumped up for this opportunity,” Spencer said. “He comes from the area, he’s grown up through Eastside (United) and supported the Timbers in Division Two. There can be a lot of anxiety and a lot of pressure on guys coming in so it’s important that you try and take it easy with them. Going from training and playing 2-3 months a year to the demands that we have here on a daily basis, it’s a helluva jump. It’s important that we look after him properly.”
Recently, Richards missed a portion of training with what Spencer described as a “tweaked quad.”
While it’s exciting to be a part of the team he supported growing up, Richards isn’t lacking ambition.
“There was a noticeable transition from high school to college and it took me a little bit to get used to, but I think I got the hang of it fairly quickly,” Richards said. “I’m definitely noticing a transition from the college to the professional game, so hopefully I can get on top of that as quickly as possible and adjust.
“I’m setting my sights high. I’m being realistic knowing that I probably won’t play all that much (this season), but that doesn’t lower my goals. I still want to set my sights high with that end goal of playing.”