Young soccer players learn from the pros

Timbers' Richards returns home as part of team's tour

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter



Did you know?

• Dribble Oregon presented by Jeld-Wen Windows & Doors is a six-stop tour that includes youth soccer clinics and tree planting events.

• In addition to two one-hour clinics on Saturday, Timbers players Brent Richards and Ryan Kawulok, with members of the Timbers Army Northern Alliance and other volunteers planted trees in the Meadow Homes neighborhood.

• Richards will also participate in Sunday's tour stop in Pendleton, Ore. Other Timbers players will hold clinics this month in Medford, Eugene, Klamath Falls and Astoria, Ore.

• The Timbers season opener is March 3 against New York at Jeld-Wen Field. Training camp begins in mid-January.

For much of Brent Richards' youth, the Clark County Indoor Sports Center was like his second home.

The Camas native played indoor soccer in leagues, holiday tournaments and pickup games. He remembers sometimes playing as many as three games a night.

On Saturday, the Portland Timbers forward was again having fun at the east Vancouver indoor soccer facility. Richards and defender Ryan Kawulok kicked off the Timbers Dribble Oregon tour by sharing their passion for soccer with 100 kids during a pair of free hour-long clinics.

"I enjoy doing the clinics with the kids," Richards said. "They're running around and enjoying soccer, so it's a great time."

Not even getting hit in the face with a shot on the goal could spoil the fun for 6-year-old Hunter Baron.

While enjoying some complimentary pizza after the clinic, the King's Way Christian School first-grader said he prefers kicking the ball to heading it.

"I like that you get to make goals and dribble the ball," Hunter said, explaining that he also enjoys keeping track of how many goals he's scored.

Richards, who played four seasons at the University of Washington after graduating in 2008 from Camas High School, has scored countless goals at Clark County Indoor Sports Center. These days, he's eager to start his second season of professional soccer and to score his first Major League Soccer goal. That challenge starts in a couple of weeks when the Timbers open their 2013 training camp under new head coach Caleb Porter.

"Last year I was pretty nervous about the start of training camp," Richards said. "This year, I'm just excited to get out there again."

As the Timbers' first homegrown player, Richards knows his spot on the Timbers roster is secure — for now.

"I knew I was going to be here this year, but that doesn't mean I'm guaranteed playing time," Richards said. He said his focus is on working hard each day — and to be more confident — in his second professional season.

He said the work ethic of veteran players showed him the effort and commitment it takes to have a career of any length.

The real work days are right around the corner. Saturday's stop at his old stomping ground was a chance for Richards to interact with young fans.

Heather Baron, Hunter's mom, plays soccer at Clark County Indoor Sports Center. She said the Timbers' Dribble Oregon clinic was a fabulous experience for her family.

"It's a very unique opportunity to have professional players teach the kids," she said.