June 14th, 2011
Jamaica's Dane Richards (right) battles for the ball with Edder Delgado of Honduras during their Gold Cup match on Monday night at Red Bull Arena in Harrison.
The Dane Richards that Red Bulls fans have seen the past year, the player who darts through defenses while scoring and setting up goals, has blended his game into a talented Jamaica squad, which should make for an interesting CONCACAF Gold Cup the next two weeks.
Jamaica, which defeated Honduras on Monday night at Red Bull Arena, 1-0, to win the Group B championship, is one of the rising teams in CONCACAF and Richards has been a key part of the growth.
“I have the same role, get behind the defense, create and be dangerous with my speed,” Richards said. “It’s the same game so I just try to be better each and every game.”
But it wasn’t always that way.
From the day Richards was drafted in the second round out of Clemson in 2007, he has been an enigma.
Blessed with amazing speed and dribbling ability, he would beat players off the dribble and open up a defense, but his crosses were inconsistent and his shooting off the mark.
This season, under second-year coach Hans Backe, the Red Bulls’ attack is no longer centered around crosses to Juan Pablo Angel in the box.
With Angel gone, and with the likes of Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers and Teemu Tainio in the lineup, the Red Bulls are a possession team, playing to feet, which is Richards’ game.
The 27-year-old midfielder has two goals and three assists in nine games this season and has picked up an assist in each of Jamaica’s first two Gold Cup games.
“I’m keeping the ball more and in the final third I’m making the right decision,” Richards said. “I’ve worked on my shooting and I’m really shooting well now.
“It’s just repetition. In college I used to score goals from all over and then it seemed like I went into a (slump) for two years, and I’m just coming back.”
Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore has noticed.
While the Red Bulls use Richards as a midfielder on the right in a 4-4-2, Whitmore plays Richards up top, either on the left or right, in a 4-3-3.
“Dane can think the game. He has the ability and the speed, and he can score,” Whitmore said. “Dane has contributed a lot to the national program. He is developing into a better player game by game.”
Jamaica, which reached the Gold Cup semifinals in 1993 and 1998, losing to Mexico both times, has a number of Major League Soccer players on its roster, including Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, last year’s MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.
“All the players in MLS have been doing well in the Gold Cup so far, so that shows a big positive toward our league,” said Richards, who has 15 goals and 20 assists in his MLS career. “Hopefully that will continue and a bunch of us reach the finals.”
Depending on the final Group C games Tuesday night, there’s a chance Jamaica could play the United States in the Gold Cup quarterfinals.
That could mean Richards running at U.S. defender Tim Ream, his Red Bulls teammate.
Richards smiles at the possibility.
“Ah, the U.S.,” he said. “I won’t comment on that. If it happens, it happens.
“The important thing is to get though the group stage. As long as we win and advance, that’s all that matters.”
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