Dane Richards was getting ready to go out for dinner when his life changed.
Now, the Jamaican midfielder is getting ready to make his home debut with the Vancouver Whitecaps (8-6-6) against the Los Angeles Galaxy (8-10-2) on Wednesday.
“Actually, I was getting ready to go for dinner,” Richards said after practice Tuesday.
“I had to start packing right away, because I looked at the schedule for Vancouver and I saw that they were going to play in Chicago.”
Richards was acquired along with allocation money from the Red Bulls, the only Major League Soccer team he had ever known, for midfielder Sebastien Le Toux. The 28-year-old was New York’s longest-serving active player and second all-time with 147 games played and 11,699 minutes logged.
He believed his time in New York was coming to an end, and received frequent ribbing from his teammates to that effect. Still, after five and a half seasons with the Red Bulls, the trade caught him off guard.
“But I’m over it now and just looking forward to my new team,” Richards said.
The Montego Bay native saw action as a second-half substitute in Chicago, but will make his first start as the Caps host the David Beckham-led Galaxy at B.C. Place Stadium. Richards had a goal and two assists with New York, but is expected to play a much more prominent offensive role in Vancouver as the Whitecaps seek a boost heading towards the stretch drive of the season.
Although Richards is classified as a midfielder, he plays a distinct right-wing role and frequently moves up on the attack. The Whitecaps had developed Omar Salgado as a left-winger before he went down with a foot injury, but have lacked a consistent threat from the right side.
“He brings a different dimension to our team, one that we’ve been missing,” said Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie. “He’ll bring natural width and pace that we’ve been looking for. He’s settled in really well so far, and he seems to be enjoying it.”
Richards gives the Whitecaps two speedy Jamaicans, along with rookie striker Darren Mattocks, who leads the team in scoring with six goals. Richards said he and Mattocks have worked together well so far.
The winger said his role will be to take advantage of Mattocks’ speed and send him balls in the 18-yard box.
“They’re both dynamic players and seem to get on well with each other off the field,” Rennie said. “I could see them having a good relationship on the field, too.”
But much of Vancouver’s attention will be on defence as the hosts try to stop Beckham and dangerous mates like Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan. The Galaxy embarrassed the Whitecaps 3-0 in L.A. on June 23.
The Whitecaps were never really in the game. Rennie wants to see a stronger defensive effort against the star-studded Galaxy.
“We have to make sure that we defend better against the most dangerous players,” Rennie said. “We have to close the spaces down so that they don’t have too much time to get their head up and play, because if you do that, they’ll cause you problems.”
Rennie said the Whitecaps must also use the ball better and play their way out of the Galaxy’s pressure a little bit smarter than they did in the last game. But Vancouver will have difficulties on both fronts, because veteran defender Alain Rochat, who has been used in midfield in recent games, will serve a one-game suspension for taking his fifth yellow card in Chicago.
With a win, the Galaxy can move within a point of the fifth-place Whitecaps. L.A. has been surging lately, posting three wins in its past five games. Vancouver only has a one and a tie in the same time span.
Beckham, who missed the Galaxy’s game in Vancouver last year because he was serving a one-game suspension, is coming off a strong performance in a 5-3 victory in Portland on Saturday. He scored two goals, including one off a free kick over a defensive wall, assisted on another and launched the breakout that resulted in yet another one.
Richards said the Whitecaps must prevent the 37-year-old former English international from making his precise deliveries. The Jamaican recalled that the Red Bulls beat the Galaxy the first time he played against Beckham, before a sold-out Giants Stadium home crowd.
Richards hopes for a similar result in his first home game with the Whitecaps as he tries to “relate” to his new club.
“We want to win, so I think I can help the team win,” Richards said. “I’m a great team player, so I can be consistent on the field and do what the coaches say, and take it from there.”
Notes: Vancouver striker Eric Hassli, who suffered a foot injury in Chicago, will not play. ... The Galaxy held a late-afternoon practice at B.C. Place. ... The game was virtually sold out Tuesday.
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