Of the many differences between former Union manager Peter Nowak and current boss John Hackworth, one seems to be their philosophies on building defensive depth.
Whereas Nowak once went into a season with less than a handful of natural defenders on his roster, Hackworth is steadily acquiring talented backups at every position along the backline.
One of the last pieces to that puzzle appears to be acquisition Damani Richards, a true left back who figures to slot in behind midfielder-turned-fullback Gabriel Farfan.
“The team really needed a left back,” Richards said after a recent training session, “and I’m going to work really hard to make sure that’s covered.”
A tall player that’s strong on his left foot and likes to attack, Richards fits the mold as to what Hackworth was looking for on his bench. At the same time, however, Richards is something of a long-term project; he’s only 18-years-old and, like Union teammate Keon Daniel, hails from Trinidad & Tobago.
“Damani, being a young player from Trinidad & Tobago has had the most difficult time [adjusting],” Hackworth said last week. “But that’s to be expected. We need to give him time and to be patient with him, both as a young player and coming from a different culture to adapt.”
Giving Richards time shouldn’t be too much of an issue, considering the Union also have Raymon Gaddis – who enjoyed a terrific rookie season last year – backing up starting fullbacks Sheanon Williams and Farfan.
And despite being a midfielder most of his life, Farfan has played well at left back ever since being thrust into that role following the 2011 trade of Jordan Harvey.
“I think, as a starting point, it should be said that Gabe Farfan is our starting left back,” Hackworth said. “He is, without a doubt, one of the best left backs in terms of just soccer ability. He may not be a true left back but the way that we play and our style of wanting our left back to be an attacking player, he’s very good at that.”
But if Hackworth ever decides to put Farfan back into the midfield, having a player like Richards – who he called an “extremely talented individual” – is a nice cushion.
And, for what it’s worth, Richards believes he’ll be able to transfer the international success he’s had with the Trinidad & Tobago U-20 team to the MLS level, sooner rather than later.
“I see a lot of opportunities to grow more as a player, to help the team, to do very good this season,” he said. “That’s all I want to do. I just want to make a big, big difference at the left back position.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.