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SSFC Spotlight: Amir Richardson wraps season with Le Havre

The tri-national is currently with the France U-20 squad.

Soccer - International Friendly - France vs. Uruguay Photo by liewig christian/Corbis via Getty Images

With each passing month, dual-national recruiting becomes an even more important aspect of managing the United States Men’s National Team. The recent addition of Malik Tillman to the program illustrates that, with time, most players are open to changing their minds and exploring options. While firmly committed to France at the moment, Amir Richardson is an intriguing prospect developing at Le Havre. The talented 20-year-old midfielder enjoyed a breakout season in Ligue 2 and should continue to improve.

Richardson was born in Nice, France, the son of Michael “Sugar” Ray, a four-time NBA All-Star Game selection who instilled a “work ethic” in him. He played with AS Fontonne Antibes and spent several years in the OGC Nice Academy after convincing his mother to allow him to change clubs. Next was a switch to Le Havre in 2019, a move made in search of opportunities for playing time and a first-team pathway. Living in a new city presented a challenge, with a colder climate and general adjustment struggles that “were a little complicated.”

Richardson made his first-team debut in May of 2021, starting and playing 90 against league champions ESTAC Troyes in a 3-2 victory. His strong performance featured accurate passing and a bevy of successful defensive duels, earning a 7.4 rating from FotMob. A few months later, the club signed him to a professional contract for three years, marked as “a player for the future.”

Richardson opened the most recent season as a starter but experienced an early setback. A legal issue was publicized by L’Équipe, with the news organization claiming he was caught driving a teammate’s car without a license. The club briefly suspended him for a match against AS Nancy. The manager described the then-teenager as “an intelligent player” who apologized and would learn from his “big mistake.”

View footage of Richardson from 2021 on YouTube.

Richardson rebounded and quickly rejoined the team, being rewarded “Pépite du month” (Nugget of the month) for December. He ended the season with 34 total appearances, regularly featuring in the starting lineup but saw his minutes reduced toward the end of the schedule. After early promise, Le Havre missed out on promotion with an eight-place finish.

“[Becoming a starter] was unimaginable for me,” Richardson told the club’s official website. “Circumstances meant that I had my chance and that I knew how to seize it… It’s a real twist of fate. For me, football is above all a pleasure and when you play, you don’t want to lose your place. The best way to keep it is to work hard to keep progressing. You’re good, you stay on the pitch. You’re not good, there are other players. It’s football.”

His international career has been a bit of a soap opera. Richardson is eligible to play for the United States, France, and Morocco. Last October, he accepted a call-up to the latter set-up but was asked to join Les Bleus at the last moment while boarding a flight with his luggage already on the airplane. The midfielder honored his commitment, deciding to test the waters by attending the camp “out of respect for the people who summoned [him] and the Moroccan Federation.”

Shortly after, Richardson accepted an invitation to join the France U-20 squad, a program described as his “priority.” Le Havre prefers that the talented prospect stays local during international breaks in order to reduce travel. He has played in four matches for Les Blues, including starting against Panama during the ongoing Toulon Tournament.

However, the door has yet to close for the United States, with breaking into the rotation of the reigning World Cup champions a difficult challenge for any player. Based on a conversation with American Soccer Now, Richardson is “open for everything” and had yet to hear from Berhalter as of January but would be eligible for the 2024 Olympics. He still regularly travels stateside to visit his father, who is hoping for him to switch.

View an “every touch” video from his performance against Toulouse.

A towering central midfielder still in the throes of development, the 6’5” Richardson regularly lines up in the holding role but can also handle box-to-box responsibilities. He is noted for his ability to bully opposing dribblers and jumpstart possession, praised for his “good technique, quality support, and liveliness.” SO FOOT named him a player to watch with “soft and fluid” handling of the ball that is indispensable to Le Havre. Perusing his game film reveals a player who makes a lot of short passes and is able to easily shield away defenders, with surprising mobility when quickly and frequently moving into the attacking half.

“I actually like to play all across the midfield,” Richardson told American Soccer Now. “I can play either as the No. 6 or the No. 8 and I love to play defense. I’ve been playing mostly as the No. 6, but sometimes the coach pushes me forward more into the attack where I can carry the ball.”

The days of the USMNT’s fortunes hinging on the commitment of a talented prospect or two are long over, but their recruitment is still important in an increasingly connected world. If Richardson were to consider joining the program in the future, his presence would be a welcome upgrade and add quality to the defensive midfielder depth chart. For now, fans will have to observe from a distance, watching as the well-regarded prospect navigates his young career for both club and country.