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Full circle at the Big O: Richter returns to Olympic Stadium as an assistant coach

Ryan Richter captained the Bethlehem Steel in their first ever match, played at Olympic Stadium on March 25, 2016

Morgan Tencza

The Philadelphia Union will be playing at Stade de Olympic in Montreal for the first time on Saturday when they visit CF Montreal but it won’t be the first time assistant coach Ryan Richter has been part of a game in the 61,000-seat indoor venue originally built for the 1976 Olympics.

Richter wore the captain’s armband in the first ever Bethlehem Steel FC match played at Olympic Stadium on March 25, 2016. The Steel won the match 1-0 on a first half Fabian Herbers goal. Richter started and played the full 90 minutes at right back in the inaugural match for the Union’s second team.

“It’s a pretty cool memory of the first Bethlehem Steel game,” Richter said this week after a first team training session. “When you look at the players in the game there aren’t too many guys still around.”

Cory Burke and Matt Real were both part of the team in the inaugural season but neither played in that inaugural game. Several on that inaugural roster are still active players like goalkeeper John McCarthy (LAFC), Herbers (Chicago Fire), Derrick Jones (Houston Dynamo), Auston Trusty (Colorado Rapids), Taylor Washington (Nashville SC), Joshua Yaro (St. Louis City SC 2), Leo Fernandes (Tampa Bay Rowdies), Bolu Akinyode (Miami FC) and more.

Captain Ryan Richter on the ball during the first half for BSFC
Ryan Richter in a preseason match for Bethlehem Steel vs Georgetown at the Power Training Complex in 2016
Trey Madara

Richter was brought in along with James Chambers, now an assistant under former Steel coach Brendan Burke with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, to provide veteran leadership to the newly formed Union second team. Richter was initially drafted by the Union out of La Salle in 2011 but made a few stops (Charleston Battery, Toronto FC, Ottawa Fury) after not featuring in the 2011 season with the Union. After spending the inaugural season with the Steel he played two more seasons professionally with the New York Cosmos.

He returned to his hometown club to start his coaching career and was involved in overseeing the pre-academy program and coaching with the U17 team before taking over as the head coach of the U15s. He led the U15 team to the final of the MLS Next Cup last summer and after Pat Noonan was hired to take over as head coach with FC Cincinnati he was given a chance to step up to the first team ahead of the 2022 season.

“Since I came back to the club in a coaching capacity, it’s been the goal,” Richter said. “I’m happy I didn’t skip any steps along the way. I started coaching the pre-Academy, learning how to coach, working under Iain Munro and Tommy Wilson, and learning what it means to be a coach, how you think about the game and how you connect with players.”

A father of three, Richter has embraced the experience of growing as a coach in his hometown and having family in the stands at games, but it’s his love of the club he’s now been connected since the 2011 MLS SuperDraft that makes it extra special.

Ryan Richter (middle) during a Union preseason game in Clearwater, Florida on the bench next to head coach Jim Curtin and assistant Frank Leicht
Morgan Tencza

“What it comes down to is I love the club,” Richter said. “I love working with Ernst (Tanner), I love working with Jim (Curtin). There aren’t any surprises coming in. I knew I liked the entire staff and that it was a good fit.”

Richter has also been back working closely with some of the players he previously worked with in the academy, young homegrowns like Quinn Sullivan, Jack McGlynn, Paxten Aaronson and Anton Sorenson.

“I kind of feel like my growth as a coach has been their growth as players,” Richter said.

The Union’s second team no longer plays in the Lehigh Valley or in the second division USL and goes by the Philadelphia Union II handle instead of the borrowed name from U.S. soccer history, but the legacy of that inaugural season lives on in the way the Union has grown its club through a hyperfocus on development.

Union II kicks off its inaugural season in the new MLS Next Pro league on March 25 against FC Cincinnati 2. The roster will be much younger than the one a 26-year-old Richter joined in 2016 but the goal remains the same: to develop players for the first team and beyond.

“It’s definitely evolved over the years and it’s gotten way younger, which is cool,” Richter said. “It’s about developing players for the first team, developing them into really good players in MLS and then selling them to make the whole thing sustainable.”

The Union will kick off at 4 p.m. Saturday at Olympic Stadium, looking for their first win of the season after a 1-1 draw at home against Minnesota United FC last week. For his first road game as a first team assistant, Richter said he’s hoping for two things: a win for the visitors and more fans.

“Hopefully it will be another cool experience and we come up with another win,” Richter said. “More fans would be nice too. It gets a bit empty when there are only a couple hundred fans in a 60,000-seat stadium.”