UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – When Red Bulls fans discuss Dane Richards, a full range of emotions come out.
Some love the speedy Jamaican international and recall his brilliant playoff performance in 2008 when New York made their first-ever MLS Cup final. Then there is the Richards who has sometimes frustrated with his less-than-perfect crossing and his decision-making ability.
But over the past five games, there may not have been a better or more consistent New York player than the right-sided midfielder.
“Something has happened with Dane, that’s for sure,” New York head coach Hans Backe said. “He’s a threat now every game.”
Backe said that no left back in the league wants to face an in-form Richards right now. Over the past handful of league matches, Richards has done more than just burn by opponents with his speed.
In fact, earlier in the year, Richards struggled as defenders laid off of him and gave him space, nullifying his speed advantage and forcing him to hit crosses and make decisions on the ball. That meant Richards couldn’t just turn the corner on a player with a burst of speed and get into space.
But since June, Richards has been putting in extra time during practice with assistant coach Richie Williams, working on not only his crossing, but his decision-making ability. Now he’s more patient on the ball and doesn’t force the issue.
“Basically, I’m working with Richie on what I am doing, focusing on me and what I need to do and not as much on what the defender is doing,” Richards told MLSSoccer.com. “I focus on doing well whatever it is that I need to do with the ball. The repetition really helps.” Since representing Jamaica two weeks ago in a friendly match in which he scored a goal, Richards said he is “playing more relaxed.” The confidence of that goal—and the addition of Thierry Henry up top and Rafa Márquez to the midfield—has helped Richards calm his own game, which has taken off some pressure he feels to be the constant sparkplug on the wing.
“I had a rough patch, but I scored and of course that helps,” Richards said. “Now you can feel the confidence, and now I am playing with some players who have elevated everyone’s play. I feel like I can just go out there and play soccer.”
One such player is veteran Chris Albright. The right back is always patient with Richards in practice, monitoring the player who lines up directly in front of him. The former LA Galaxy defender also communicates with Richards constantly by taking him aside to give him advice.
“It’s simply sharing with him the things I learned, the things I got from playing with Cobi [Jones] when I was with LA,” Albright told MLSSoccer.com. “Helping him know what to do when he’s on the ball or where to come in to cut off a passing angle. Those things.”
According to Richards, Albright has a simple philosophy throughout the game.
“Let’s just win our side,” Richards said.
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012.