FC Cincinnati finished their inaugural season in MLS with a 0-0 draw against DC United. And although the club finished last in MLS, some supporters found the draw to be somewhat satisfying -- some may even say memorable. Memorable enough that some fans have taken to co-opting a hashtag remembering the nine victims of arace motivated shooting in Charleston a few years ago, but that's probably another story. I would like to believe that the club expected an uncomfortable adjustment period in moving from USL to MLS but I am not sure many expected FCC to experience as many trials and tribulations as they did.

On top of a frustrating season, a handful of players had their own individual battles. For goalkeeper Spencer Richey, that was the day he suffered a back injury that had him sidelined for the final 12 matches of the season.  

Richey recently spent 10 days training with Premier League side Crystal Palace from October 28th to November 6th over the off-season, and I wanted to get on the line with him and ask him about that experience. Richey was kind enough to share some of his time with me while he was out on pre-season duties.

For a many professionals, individualized trainings tend to focus on particular weak aspects the player has identified in their game. When I asked Spencer if he had anything specific he wanted to work on while in London, he stated he just wanted to take in the experience. “It’s always good to be in an environment where things happen a little faster, shots come off a little quicker, the game is just a bit more fast paced. That’s what you get when you’re playing with some of the best players in the world.” He told me. “Just to get a taste of what the next level up from MLS is like and I’ve noticed already from being over there for those ten days, it’s helped me quite a bit here in starting the preseason.”  

Will Parchman, columnist at The Athletic and previously of Top Drawer Soccer as one of the few authorities on youth national team prospects, said on twitter last year that Richey was " . . . a fixture as a young keeper on the USYNT scene. At one time in the late aughts, a lot of people thought he was the best prospect in the system. He made the '09 U17 US World Cup squad, but only as a backup. He never factored." Richey's career then went to the University of Washington before being drafted by the Vancouver Whitecaps. From there, Richey was brought over to Cincinnati with the arrival of former Whitecaps USL manager Alan Koch. Richey's promising young career has transitioned to now finding regular playing time in MLS. And the further opportunity to train with one of the biggest clubs in one of the prestigious leagues is a continuation of Richey's upward trajectory.

This opportunity was first discussed between Richey, Goalkeeper Coach Jack Stern, and General Manager Gerard Nijkamp towards the end of the 2019 season. After the club was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, Richey proactively asked Stern to see if he could set up some training for him. Stern, having spent 2012-2013 with then-Premier League side West Bromwich Albion, used his connections abroad to secure this study abroad program for Richey.

While Richey was training with Crystal Palace, the club was preparing for their match against Leicester City. Not only was Richey able to experience how an English Premier League side trains on the field, he was also asked to sit in on the scouting sessions for both the offensive side, as well as the defensive side. Through this experience, he plans to come into the season more prepared, both physically and mentally, than he ever has been and I know I am excited to see how well this all translates onto the field.

When asked about how this journey abroad impacted his preparations for the upcoming season, Richey mentioned that every player has their own routine for the off-season -- you can give your body time to heal and rest or you can push the envelope a little bit, saying “ . . . at the end of the day, you need to be fresh coming into preseason because it is a grind.” Having been sidelined the last roughly seven weeks of the season, Richey determined this experience would be a great way to get back into the swing of things and begin his preparation for preseason camp. “Because I had that 6-7 weeks that I was out towards the end of the season, I did push it quite a bit through October and into November. In the gym, trying to get stronger and work on preventing injuries. I believe it has paid off. Coming into this preseason I am in the best shape that I have ever been in as a professional.”  

Going into the inaugural season, Richey was aware of the club's intention of starting veteran goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton, and for him to be the number two. “Of course as a competitor, that’s not always how I thought but last year we both ended up playing a decent amount of games, so this year I’m just trying to reclaim that starting position and that’s my focus going into preseason.”  

When asked if the arrival of now former head coach Ron Jans and general manager Gerrard Nijkamp caused goalkeeping coach Jack Stern’s trainings to be altered, Richey stated that it can be difficult to change things up mid-season and eliminate Koch’s philosophy on a whim but that the Dutch head had coach began to implement his own style of play little by little. “They want the team to play a more possession-based style. For the goalkeepers, that means being better with our feet, showing good angles for the backline and sitting midfielder, and providing an outlet for those guys.” Richey supports this style of play and states it is, “...more fun and rewarding.”  

As the home opener looms, it's not quite clear if Richey has managed to win the starting job away from Tyton during the pre-season.  And given the coaching flux the team suddenly finds themselves in, it's possible whoever the new manager is wants something different out of the keeper. At least for Richey, his experience in England gives him an additional level preparation heading into the 2020 season, no matter what else might happen.