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Chris Richards “couldn’t watch” the 2022 World Cup. Now he’s leading the USMNT’s march to 2026

Richards sat down with Backheeled to discuss his first year in the Premier League, the U.S., and more.

7 min read
Madeline Carter/Las Vegas Review Journal

It’s four in the morning when Chris Richards’ phone rings.

Richards is back in Texas for the offseason after spending most of the 2021-22 season on loan with Hoffenheim from Bayern Munich in the German Bundesliga. With a difficult path to minutes with Bayern, the American center back’s future is uncertain. Right now, though, he isn’t thinking about his time with Hoffenheim or the upcoming preseason with Bayern. He’s not even really thinking about what’s next for his career.

I mean, come on, it’s four in the morning.

No, Richards is thinking about two things: staying awake and understanding the voice with a thick French accent on the other end of the line. That voice? Well, it belonged to then-Crystal Palace manager and legendary French midfielder Patrick Vieira.

With Vieira headed out on vacation the next day, the call had to come early in the morning if the two were going to connect.

“Of course, he had the big French accent,” Richards told Backheeled. “So I’m sitting there like, ‘what is going on right now?’”

Eventually during the conversation, Vieira tells Richards he is “going to try to do everything to get you” to be a Premier League player with Crystal Palace.

“So, um,” Richards says, pausing briefly as he wades his way back to the present, where he’s sitting at a table in the lobby of the U.S. men’s national team’s hotel in June, “that happened.”

Richards was “ecstatic” at Vieira’s interest in him, and at the chance to move to a mid-table Premier League club like Palace, where he might have a chance to play regularly. After returning to Germany for Bayern Munich’s preseason, the deal with Crystal Palace went through. Richards packed up his life, hopped on a plane, and moved to England in July, 2022.

“It was just one of those things where I didn't believe it until literally I was on the flight and I was like, ‘oh, it’s done, it's done.’”

It was a dream move for the Alabama-native, who had an exciting 2022-23 season ahead of him. He was going to make his mark for Vieira in England and help lead the United States at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

At least, that was the plan.

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