Brent Richards debut includes ups and downs

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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photoBrent Richards, Camas graduate made his MLS debut Saturday

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PORTLAND — Brent Richards rubbed elbows with Landon Donovan and tangled with David Beckham.

It was, the Camas native would later say, a surreal experience.

More significantly, it was real experience.

Richards entered his first Major League Soccer game at halftime on Saturday, with the Portland Timbers trailing the L.A. Galaxy 4-2 in front of 20,432 fans at Jeld-Wen Field.

“It means a lot. It’s something really special for me,” Richards told a group of reporters after the Galaxy’s 5-3 victory. “I’ve watched (the Timbers) since I was little. So to be able to make my professional debut with this team is something surreal. It’s awesome.”

Playing on the left side of midfield, the 2008 Camas High School graduate did not appear awestruck. Unlike his other Jeld-Wen appearance with the Timbers first team — a nervous performance in 22 minutes of Portland’s May 23 exhibition match with Spanish club Valencia FC — on Saturday Richards was involved in action up and down the field.

“There were a little bit of nerves. But it was all right,” Richards said. “I think I did better than my last performance when I was out here with the first team, so I was happy with that — one of the only things I was happy with.”

Richards — who helped Camas High School win Washington state titles in 2006 and 2008 then was the Washington Huskies top scorer for four seasons — was disappointed that one of his headers near the goal didn’t find the target. He admitted to a misplay that helped L.A. score its fifth goal.

Robbie Keane scored the goal 20 minutes after halftime that put the Galaxy ahead 5-2. But it was a floated pass up the right wing to an overlapping Sean Franklin that produced the doorstep goal for Keane. Reacting a split second late, Richards tried to get his leg to Beckham’s ball. But when he missed, Franklin was free for the attack.

“I misjudged the pass. Beckham’s one of the greatest passers in the game,” Richards said. “There’s no excuse. I thought I could clip it out of there and get the touch on it, but I lost that ball. I lost my man and I have to look at myself and say ‘What can I do better next time?’”

Richards did make the Galaxy account for him on the attack, several times positioning himself for headers. Though none produced a clean scoring chance, Richards’ activity made Franklin and the L.A. defense work.

“When (the ball) gets down the right side I was looking to get in the box every time. I was hoping to get above and jump over their right back,” he said. “I got on the end of a couple — just couldn’t get it on target. That’s something I just need to work on the training pitch.”

Richards was involved in the airborne challenge that sent Beckham tumbling to the turf. Beckham seemed a bit dazed and soon was replaced.

“I actually didn’t even see him. I thought that he came from behind me,” Richards said. “We were both just challenging for the header. I don’t think there was a foul on either side. I hope he’s all right.”

Richards’ Major League Soccer debut came 18 games into the season, in the first game after coach John Spencer was fired and general manager Gavin Wilkinson stepped in as the Timbers’ interim coach. Richards — who played youth soccer for Wilkinson’s Eastside United club — had been among the six substitutes dressed for several recent games, and nearly made his debut two weeks earlier at Colorado.

Instead it came in a home match, where family and friends watched him play against Major League Soccer’s glamour team.

“I’ve been watching these guys since I was little,” he said of Donovan, and Beckham. “So it was kind of cool for that to be my debut in MLS playing against them. I have a lot of respect for them, so that aspect was cool. But you always want to win.”