Brent Richards of Camas has been impressing Gavin Wilkinson with his soccer skills for more than seven years.
Now the Portland Timbers’ general manager hopes Richards will impress well into the future.
Richards, 21, signed a Major League Soccer contract with the Timbers on Wednesday, making him the first MLS Homegrown Player signed by the club. Contract details were not released.
“It’s awesome. It’s something that I wanted for a long time,” Richards said.
Wilkinson said it took him less than a week to become impressed with Richards’ athletic ability when Richards was a 14-year-old playing for Eastside United FC, a Gresham, Ore.-based club that Wilkinson runs.
“Brent has a lot of work in front of him,” Wilkinson said. “He needs to impress (coach) John (Spencer), and he needs to adjust to the next level and work extremely hard.”
Wilkinson noted that Richards has made the successful jump to higher levels of competition throughout his youth and college careers.
Richards said the task ahead is scary, but exciting.
Among the challenges Richards anticiates are the faster speed of play and the physical contact in the MLS.
And, he expects, there will be other new challenges — including fighting to get into the lineup.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge for me coming into an environment where I’m not starting,” Richards said, noting that he has been in his team’s starting lineup for as long as he can remember.
Roland Minder, the Camas High School soccer coach, said he expects Richards to rise to the challenge.
“I’m confident he’ll be succesful,” Minder said.
Richards was a member of Camas High School teams that won Washington Class 3A state championships in 2006 and 2008. In 2008, he was the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Washington and The Columbian’s All-Region Player of the Year.
He did not play for Camas as a junior, instead concentrating on playing for his Eastside United team.
“It makes me humbled and proud at the same time to know that he’s one of ours,” Minder said, remembering that Richards had an aura about him that helped raise the level of the players around him.
“He would put the ball where it was supposed to be and the other players understood that it was their job to be where they needed to be,” Minder said.
Primarily a forward, Richards scored 26 goals and had 12 assists in 37 games over three seasons with the Timbers U-23s in United Soccer Leagues’ Premier Development League (PDL). In 2010, he was the PDL MVP and playoff MVP, helping Portland to a 20-0 season and a PDL national title.
In four seasons with the University of Washington, Richards produced 31 goals and 15 assists in 72 games. In each of his four seasons, he led the Huskies in scoring.
“We think he has more in the tank,” Wilkinson said.
Listed at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, Richards has consistently shined competing against bigger, stronger players.
Wilkinson said the decision to make Richards the Timbers’ first homegrown player was made based not only on Richards’ playing ability, but also his “tremendous character.”
The organization had to wait for MLS to designate Richards a Timbers’ homegrown player.
Normally, a player must be designated as a club’s homegrown player before entering college. Wilkinson noted that when the Timbers joined MLS, the league recognized the club as an existing entity dating to its United Soccer League days. That agreement — plus the fact that Richards played for five years with Wilkinson’s Eastside United club — was key to the league’s decision, Wilkinson said.
Richards said he learned several weeks ago that MLS had designated him a Timbers homegrown player. But it wasn’t until the contract showed up on Wednesday that he was sure he’d be a Timber in 2012.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said.
Had Richards not been designated a homegrown player, he would have been available to all clubs in the Jan. 12 MLS SuperDraft of college players.
Richards is the third Timbers U-23s player to sign with the first team, joining midfielder Freddie Braun and goalkeeper Jake Gleeson. All three were part of the U-23s championship-winning team in 2010.
Richards is two classes away from earning a degree in economics from the University of Washington, and plans to finish those courses this term even while going to work for the Timbers, who start training camp on Jan. 20.
The Timbers have the eighth pick in the SuperDraft. Wilkinson said this draft looks deeper than the 2011 draft, but declined to discuss his team’s priorities. . . . On Wednesday, the Timbers announced that players will report on Jan. 20 for physicals, and that the team will begin training in Portland on Jan. 23. The team will train for two weeks in Portland, then go to Los Angeles for 12 days of training and scrimmages at the Home Depot Center. The Timbers wrap up preseason with a four-team tournament Feb. 27 through March 4 at Jeld-Wen Field. . . . The Timbers kick off their 2012 MLS season March 12 at home against Philadelphia. The remainder of the schedule should be announced soon.
Born: May 20, 1990
Last Club: Portland Timbers U-23s
College: University of Washington