The minute after Landon Donovan bounced the Whitecaps from the playoffs, beat writers in Van City began their post-mortem. The topic du jour was YP Lee and decision to retire or keep playing. It made sense after all; the team MVP trying to decide to stick it out for another year is obviously a big story. Then the focus shifted to our two embattled Scottish players, Kenny Miller and Barry Robson. The press began to tear the two to shreds, especially Miller. Hell, even I wrote a thousand word article on why Barry Robson should seek employment elsewhere next season. However, lost in the shuffle of it all was that one of the most consistent players on the Whitecaps wouldn't be returning next season. I'm speaking, of course, of the speedy Jamaican winger, Dane Richards, who we already know is taking his talents to the Burnley Football Club in the Champions league next season.
Richards was acquired in a surprising mid-season move that saw Sebastien Le Toux, the prized off-season acquisition, shipped off to the NY Redbulls after it became apparent he didn't fit the system. Richards scored his first goal as a Whitecap in just his second start, tickling twine against the Earthquake in a 2-1 win. Richards would add three goals in nine starts for the 'Caps, meshing in well with the squad and forming some nice chemistry with super rookie Darren Mattocks towards the end of the year.
When he was on the pitch, Richards simply made things happen. His speed was a constant game changer, as was his willingness to keep playing when the matches got physical. Despite his incredible foot speed, Richards instantly earned brownie points with me for not flopping every time a boot came near his ankle, a rarity considering how widely accepted it is in any soccer league. Down the stretch, Richards was becoming a go to player for Martin Rennie, which was proven in the final match of the season.
Consider this; the 'Caps are down by one goal with their entire season on the line. Martin Rennie has one substitution left, and he has two players that need to be on the pitch in that situation. His choices are 24 year old Camilo, the clubs leading scorer from 2011, and arguably the clubs most talented offensive player. As we all know, Camilo picked out a spot for himself on the bench while Dane Richards took the pitch, because Rennie believed that Richards was the one that could provide the spark. Why? Richards worked hard every single minute he was on the damn pitch, which made him a great role model for a young player like Darren Mattocks. While Camilo jogged back to the play, Richards was always running, one of the few 'Caps not named John Thorrington to do it consistently.
Will it be easy to replace his offence? No question; Richards wasn't a scoring dynamo while he wore the blue and white, but his value to the squad can't be measured by production alone. As I mentioned before, his play was a great example for Darren Mattocks; now that's gone. For Mattocks, it's a double whammy as he also loses a friend and a fellow Jamaican in the signing.
Sure, if YP Lee chooses to pack it in and call it a career, the 'Caps back end will be worse off than it was last season. (Perhaps thats a blog for another time) However, the loss of Dane Richards reminds me of the loss of Davide Chiumiento; a valuable player that was lost for next to nothing. We all saw how the 'Caps responded when Chiumiento skipped town, that is to say, not bloody well at all. How will the 'Caps react next season when it sinks in that one of their hardest working players is no longer patrolling the offensive end of the pitch?
Time will tell. However, I'm saying right now that it's a damn shame he won't be back next year.