PORTLAND — The first day on the job was not all that foreign for Brent Richards.
When he arrived at Jeld-Wen Field on Monday, the Camas native saw some familiar faces from his soccer past. And he arrived at the opening of his first professional training camp knowing that he will be tested as never before in his soccer career.
After leading the Washington Huskies in scoring over the last four years and before that helping Camas High School to a couple of state titles, Richards is now playing soccer for a living.
“I anticipate it being a lot different,” he said after the first workout of the Timbers second Major League Soccer season. “I’ve gone up a level several times in my life: high school, then college. It’s always been a bit of a transition. But I think this is going to be the biggest transition yet, because these are the best players in the nation. I know I’m going to have to really, really do my best to make it here.”
Signed last month as the Timbers’ first MLS homegrown player, the 21-year-old is one of six forwards under contract at the start of seven weeks of preseason training.
The homegrown player program is in place to encourage MLS teams to develop their own players. Richards played three seasons with the Timbers-under-23 team and was the Premier Development League’s national MVP in 2010, when he helped the Timbers go unbeaten and won the national PDL championship.
“It was good to see some faces from PDL and other places,” Richards said. Goalkeeper Jake Gleeson and midfielder Freddie Braun were also key members of the 2010 PDL champions.
When the Timbers joined MLS, the league allowed the franchise to count its seasons as a second-division United Soccer Leagues club for player development. That agreement, plus Richards’ time playing for Eastside United of Gresham, Ore., were keys to the league’s decision that Richards qualifies as a Timbers home-grown player. As such, Richards was not made available for the college draft.
That was fine with him.
“It’s a great thing,” he said. “I love this area so I couldn’t be happier.”
Richards said that coach John Spencer told him that every player will have a chance to earn playing time.
“If I’m good enough I’ll play and if I’m not, I won’t,” Richards said, repeating what Spencer told him. “(Spencer) said he doesn’t have anything against young players, so I’m hoping to come out and give everything and hopefully that will do it for me.”
Monday’s assignment was fitness testing.
“Even though we didn’t touch the ball at all, I was real happy to be out there, and pleased with my results in the fitness test,” Richards said. “I was really curious to see what the other guys’ (fitness) level would be. I think I fit in pretty well around their level. I’m happy with it for the most part.”
He and his teammates did not see a soccer ball during Monday’s 90-minute session. But Richards did put on his Timbers’ gear for the first time. He will wear No. 16.
“They gave me a number. I’m quite pleased to have one,” he said with a smile.