Upper Montclair, NJ – After the All-Star break, there wasn’t a hotter player or a more prolific scorer for the Red Bulls then Dane Richards. The Jamaican international, who is now entering his fifth year in the league, scored a career high five goals for New York last season, and all five came after the month of July.
It wasn’t just a knack for goals that made Richards a hot commodity for New York and head coach Hans Backe, it was the fact that he was scoring beautiful strikes. No tap-ins here.
So perhaps it should be no surprise that in the Florida leg of preseason training last week, Richards was lined up as a forward by head coach Hans Backe.
But don’t read into that too much, Richards says. Even though he’s played there before, both in college at Clemson and with the Red Bulls, it likely won’t be his spot on the field.
“Well, I’m used to it,” Richards said. “I think [Backe] is just resting Juan Agudelo, who is more of a striker.”
With Agudelo having suffered a groin injury during one of New York’s preseason games in the Sunshine State, Richards was rolled out to partner Thierry Henry.
But it’s not a terribly bad contingency plan to use Richards up top from time to time; the guy has shown the ability to be dangerous in MLS, and carried his goal scoring form to the international level with Jamaica last fall. His three goals between August and November paced the “Reggae Boyz” and in December, he scored three more times in the Digicel Caribbean Cup.
In the process, Richards won the golden boot as the tournament’s top scorer. The trophy is now in his family’s home in Jamaica.
“Last Digicel Cup, I didn’t even score a goal,” Richards said. “It wasn’t even close.”
But now, he’s becoming a consistent scoring threat for New York. Amidst high-priced talent such as Henry and Rafa Marquez, and young players such as Agudelo, the Red Bulls offense still very much revolves around the speedy Richards. His ability to stretch the field with his runs and now score goals is making him a player to be feared.
“For me, Dane Richards is our go-to player,” Henry said.
The consistency in form - in particular his scoring touch - can be attributed to patience and practice. When Richards used to receive the ball in a dangerous position, he would hurry his effort on goal, often blasting it well over the frame. Now, he says he takes an extra “two seconds” to make the most of the effort.
But he also attributes his composure near goal to the encouragement of teammate Henry, who has taken Richards under his wing and been free with advice and guidance.
“To me, it was like ‘holy cow’,” Richards said of his on the field bond with Henry. “Just a player of that caliber talking to you, it gives you a boost.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDye