US Soccer, Crystal Palace defender Chris Richards is ready to show the DC region his skills this summer

The United States men’s national soccer team prepares to take on Colombia at Commanders Field in Landover, Maryland, on Saturday in its first of two international friendlies leading up to its participation in the Copa America tournament.

Chris Richards of Crystal Palace is challenged by Joao Gomes of Wolverhampton Wanderers during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Crystal Palace at Molineux on May 11, 2024 in Wolverhampton, England. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)(Getty Images/Naomi Baker)

For the last two weeks, the team has been training in Bethesda in preparation for a special edition of the tournament, which normally only features South American teams. This year, North American sides are included, giving U.S. players a chance to play against top-tier competition two years before hosting the 2026 World Cup.

Officials at U.S. Soccer say the match against Colombia is expected to have over 50,000 spectators.

One of those players is Chris Richards, who is coming off playing his second season with English Premier League side Crystal Palace. The Birmingham, Alabama, native played 30 total games this past season for the Eagles, who were able stay in the top flight of English football for the 11th straight season.

The center back will look to play his first international minutes since starting against Ghana in a friendly back in October of 2023. After playing with the U.S., Richards will join Crystal Palace for its preseason tour, which includes a Stateside Cup match against Wolves in Annapolis on July 31.

Richards spoke to WTOP about the team’s preparation for Colombia, playing against his Crystal Palace teammates, participating in Copa America, recapping the Premier League season and playing two matches in the D.C. area this summer.

Defender Chris Richards speaks to WTOP about the U.S. men's national team's match against Colombia and his time with English Premier League side Crystal Palace.

The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity.

José Umaña: How has it been like in training? How’s it been getting (re-acclimated) back with the U.S. men’s national team? And how have those battles been like in trainings with you and your teammates?

Chris Richards: Yeah, it’s been good being back. Training has been tough. It’s been a bit hotter than a lot of us are used to over in Europe, seeing the sun a bit more frequently. So that’s been a bit tough that way, but it’s been good. It’s something that we definitely need. A lot of us had a week off. So it’s good to get back in shape, get back into the rhythm of things. And yeah, to get back with the team, a lot of guys have come at different points during the last week … so we’re just making sure that we’re all on the same page. Especially now, going into the game on the weekend.

Umaña: I spoke to Matt Turner, and he mentioned how it’s good to get everybody together. It’s not a team with people are all in different silos, you guys come together. You guys hang out together. For you, as a center back, how good is it to be re-acclimated, but getting in touch with your teammates again after such a long European season?

Richards: It’s good. What’s great about us is that a lot of us keep in contact with each other during the season. So whenever we do see each other at these national team camps, it’s easy to continue where we left off. Now to center back especially, it’s good to know how the people play around you, because those are going to be the people that you’re fighting with. So like I said, I try to keep in contact with as many people as possible but even if I can’t get to them during the season, we all hang out here during camps. So it’s really nice.

Umaña: For you, what’s been the goal so far during this camp as you guys prepare for Copa America, and what are your thoughts about the tournament overall?

Richards: For the past few weeks I’ve been here, it’s been just getting back fit. It’s been about getting my rhythm back, making sure that I’m doing the right things right. We play different formation than we do at Palace, so it’s just been getting re-acclimated to playing four in the back than five and working on the principles that they’ve been teaching me.

And, of course, Copa America, we look forward to it. It’s the biggest tournament before the World Cup, and it’s something that we’re using as a litmus test, playing against some of the top teams in the world. Playing against the caliber of teams that we’re going to play in the World Cup. I wouldn’t say it’s a tune up, because we want to go in and, of course, compete and win, but certainly something that we’re using as a good benchmark.

Umaña: How knowledgeable were you of the tournament before coming into camp? The U.S. is in a group with (Panama, Bolivia and Uruguay). Is there a team that you’re excited to possibly be playing against?

Richards: As Americans, we’re not too familiar with it, because it’s not something we play in very often. But we know the magnitude of it and we know the weight that it holds. I don’t think the U.S. has ever won it. So it’d be cool to go in and win a tournament like this and set a mark in the ground for where we want to go going forward.

United States’ Chris Richards in action during the first half of an international friendly soccer match against Uzbekistan Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Umaña: Now, you’re not only in the DMV for this game, but you’re also going to be coming back with Crystal Palace after you get a break on July 31. Crystal Palace will be here for the Stateside Cup. What are your thoughts about playing in the D.C. area and playing in the nation’s capital?

Richards: I think as an American, it gives me a bit of pride. It’s kind of where the U.S. started, I guess you’d say. So I think definitely, it’s something that you want to protect, definitely something that you want to give 100% for. So I’m really looking forward to playing here. Never played here before. I only visited here when I was maybe 12 years old on a school field trip. So it’s good to be back and very much looking forward to playing here.

Umaña: You’ll have two opportunities to play in D.C. region: you’ll have the game this Saturday. And then, the game in Annapolis with Crystal Palace. So what’s it like to such a high level of soccer to this part of the United States at this time of the year where — while MLS is going on — many people are missing that European style of match that’s on break?

Richards: I think the point of preseason is to, of course, get fit, but also to kind of tap into the fans that you don’t get to see too often. Like you said, D.C. United is playing right now, but it’s just a good opportunity for American fans to kind of tap more into the teams that are coming into their region. Especially as of late, I think Premier League has started taking notice, started taking focus on the American fan base. So like I said, just another chance to connect.

Umaña: How awesome is it that you’re also going to have that opportunity in the Copa America, as well in the friendlies, in the summer to play games so close to your home state in Alabama?

Richards: I have a ton of family coming to my Atlanta game (vs. Panama), but also … to my Tampa game with Palace. I am looking forward to it. A lot of my family doesn’t get to come over to England to see me play, so I really looking forward to it.

Umaña: For you, as an American player overseas, can you kind of explain to people who are still new to the sport — how it is like playing in Europe? You’ve heard in the past about stigmas for Americans who play abroad. How’s it like for you, so far, playing overseas and the level of respect you’ve received while you’ve been with Crystal Palace?

Richards: It’s a challenge for sure. A lot of these guys grew up supporting these teams, supporting these different nations, and growing up in these places. You’re coming into their home and trying to make a name for yourself — and not saying that they don’t like it — but you wouldn’t want somebody coming into your home and trying to tell you how to do things.

It was a bit of a learning curve at first when I moved to Europe six years ago, right when I turned 18. There was a stigma that Americans are lazy, that we’re not good at soccer, things like that. Throughout the years, you see players playing at the highest level in Europe, and we’ve actually started getting a lot of respect from our European comrades. It’s a good feeling. I think there’s a lot more respect on U.S. soccer than there was when I first went over.

Umaña: That level of respect is also among your teammates. You’ve got two of your Crystal Palace teammates playing for Columbia (Daniel Muñoz and Jefferson Lerma). So how’s it like with your teammates when these kinds of games come up? How excited are you to play against your club teammates?

Richards: They played with various Americans throughout the years as well. We keep popping up at these clubs that they play at. I think everybody has respect when you play against South American teams, play against European teams, but then when it’s time to play against North American teams, I think now we’re starting to finally gain the respect that we deserve. Playing against Colombia, it’s going to be a big one, of course, because we have two guys in the team. But I’m looking forward to being able to talk trash before the game and hopefully after the game if we beat them. So it’s really something I’m looking forward to.

Umaña: Have you had any conversations with them since the call-up or before you guys headed out for international duty?

Richards: As soon as we saw the friendly lined up in March, we saw the games were lined up for D.C. against each other. That’s when the trash talking started. So we’ve been going at it for a good two/three months now.

Umaña: So how “friendly” will it be on Saturday? Are you expecting it to be little feisty?

Richards: It’ll be a friendly until Saturday, and then it’ll get a lot more serious. We’re friends off the field. Once you step on the field, you can’t really have too many friends.

Crystal Palace defender Chris Richards (R) fights for the ball with Tottenham Hotspur’s South Korean striker Son Heung-Min (L) during an English Premier League football match at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on March 2, 2024. (Justin Tallis/AFP)

Umaña: What are your thoughts on Colombia? What have you seen of them? What are your thoughts on how they play and how you guys match up against them?

Richards: Colombia is a historic team. You’ve seen it at every level. They’re an amazing team. They’re a very aggressive team. They’re very hard working team; they’re a very technical team. Every time you see Columbia on a schedule, it’s never a game that you can look at and think it’s going to be an automatic win. We’re expecting a really tough game, and we’re expecting to give them a tough game as well.

Umaña: Where do you see the U.S. right now in terms of its level? What are your goals going into Copa America? How far do you think this team can go?

Richards: I think we look at ourselves as we’re doing well, but we can always do more. I think that should always be the outlook, you should never settle for where you’re at. We’re using Copa America as a litmus test for the World Cup coming up. Because this is going to be our last tournament before going into the World Cup, but also, whatever tournament, whatever game we play we want to win. So hopefully we can, at the end of the summer, lift another trophy.

Umaña: Crystal Palace is coming to Annapolis this summer. What are your thoughts on this past season, and what you guys have accomplished? And what are you looking forward to for the upcoming season in the Premier League?

Richards: This season was definitely a season of ups and downs, but I’m really glad that it finished on the up. I think we were putting up some good performances, especially the beginning of the season, that we didn’t quite get rewarded. I think with our new coach coming in, I think it’s definitely something that we tried to fine tune. We want to play the game from the first (minute) to the 95th, rather than taking a few minutes off that will end up punishing you.

We finished the season on a high note, and I think going into next season, we want to continue with that momentum that we had and hopefully have a full 35-ish games of really good performances.

Umaña: For fans who haven’t purchased their tickets for the Columbia game or this friendly between Crystal Palace vs. Wolves in Annapolis, what would you like to say to those fans and should they attend those games?

Richards: Definitely come out. Support whether it’s the national team or support Crystal Palace. We would love to have you there, and it’d be good to hear some American accents.

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José Umaña

José Umaña is a digital editor for WTOP. He’s been working as a journalist for almost a decade, covering local news, education and sports. His work has appeared in The Prince George’s Sentinel, The Montgomery Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, PressBox and The Diamondback.

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