PORTLAND — There is a reasonable chance this is the day the Portland Timbers first homegrown player gets his first Major League Soccer start. Which means it could be a special occasion for followers of Camas High School soccer.
While stopping short of verifying that Camas native Brent Richards will start when Chivas USA visits Jeld-Wen Field tonight, Timbers general manager and interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson said Friday that the former Papermaker deserves a chance to show what he can do as starter in a Major League Soccer match.
"This is the first time that Brent's going to be in the squad with us viewing him to actually start," Wilkinson said following Friday's training session. "He's an effective player and he's deserved the opportunity. I think you always have to reward good habits. He's a player that has trained extremely, extremely well and deserves the opportunity."
Wilkinson and Richards have a relationship that dates to when Wilkinson was the director for Eastside United youth soccer club and coached Richards. But those ties have no impact on the lineup decisions for a Timbers team desperate for wins, Wilkinson emphasized.
"It's not just me coming in and liking Brent," Wilkinson said, adding that the "coaching staff has been very, very impressed with Brent for a couple of months."
The first few months as a soccer professional were unsettling for Richards, who struggled to find his place with the Timbers while at the same time traveling to Seattle once a week to complete a course at the University of Washington. On Friday, Wilkinson used the word "dreadful" to describe the rookie's preseason.
But Richards' confidence and prominence have seen a steady rise since April 22, when he scored his first professional goal in a MLS Reserve League game against the Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Richards made his first appearance in an MLS game two weeks ago in a home loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy. He came on again one week ago, entering late in a 5-0 loss at FC Dallas. He played through a bloody cut above his right eye, not wanting to give up precious playing time.
"Even getting considered for the starting 11 is awesome for me," Richards said on Friday. "Because when I first came in I was really struggling, and I was just trying to find a place where I could fit in with this team. Now that I'm starting to be more consistent and starting to have more success when I get on the field, it's really good to see that rewarded."
Richards made his first start in a Timbers jersey in Tuesday's exhibition match against Aston Villa of the English Premier League. He played 68 minutes, mostly on the left wing. He wowed the crowed with one first-half move down the wing.
He felt he missed a goal when his header from a Sal Zizzo corner kick flew high of the goal.
But Richards' response to that missed opportunity is a reflection of his recent growth, and indicative of his rising expectations.
"(That miss is) something that I just need to get out of my head and forget about that and know that next time I'm going to rise to the occasion and put it away," he said.