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Potential for career growth brought Spencer Richey back to Seattle

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Goalkeeper eager to compete for minutes.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at FC Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Some of Spencer Richey’s best sports memories are anchored to Seattle. He grew up watching Gary Payton toss alley-oops to Shawn Kemp at Key Arena; chugging Mountain Dew and munching on cotton candy in an effort to get on the big screen at Safeco Field; and rooting for the Seattle Sounders as they navigated the waters of lower-division soccer.

The former Roosevelt High student and University of Washington standout maintains strong ties to the area and often visits his parents here during the holidays.

Given these local ties, it’s understandable that Richey had long dreamed of playing for the Sounders. But that history also complicated Richey’s decision-making process before ultimately agreeing to join the Sounders this offseason.

“The hard part was taking that out of the decision,” Richey told reporters while sitting in his parents’ University District home. “I still have aspirations for my career and wanted to make this a professional decision. It was the best decision for that purpose. That it’s at home is a cherry on top. There’s a lot of good opportunity here.”

Early in the offseason, that didn’t appear to be the case. The Sounders had Trey Muse under contract and were already planning to bring back Stefan Cleveland. There simply wasn’t room for Richey.

That changed a few weeks ago when the Sounders decided to send Muse on loan to the San Diego Loyal and wanted to add another goalkeeper with MLS experience. One of their first calls was to Richey, a player goalkeeping coach Tommy Dutra has known for about 15 years and who often trained with the Sounders during his high school and college days.

Dutra gave Richey 48 hours to make a decision. Richey didn’t need nearly that much time.

“It was a lot of thinking, but I had a pretty certain feeling within an hour,” he said. “It feels like that now.”

That doesn’t mean Richey necessarily expects to challenge Stefan Frei as the Sounders starter. Richey calls Frei a Top 5 goalkeeper in MLS and recognizes that he’ll be competing for the backup position. As a 28-year-old who has started nearly 30 games over the past two seasons, he’s not exactly ready to give up on his career development, though.

The Sounders might not offer him a chance to start every week, but they do give Richey an opportunity hone his craft. Not only will he get to work alongside Frei on a daily basis, Richey will be reunited with Dutra and will be pushed for the backup job by Cleveland. It promises to be as competitive and dynamic an environment as Richey has ever had during his six seasons as a professional.

“It was a huge factor,” Richey said about the chance to work with Dutra. “I’ve taken pride in the relationship I’ve had with goalkeeper coaches over the years. The goalkeeper union is different — you work a lot of one-on-one, that relationship is critical. Frei was a great goalkeeper before he got to Seattle and I’m sure he’d say the same about the positive relationship he’s had with Tommy. I’m looking forward to working with Tommy, Frei and Cleveland.”

There should be some opportunity for playing time, as well. While Frei has been a bit of an ironman since joining the Sounders in 2014 — missing just six games and never more than three in a season — he’ll soon be 35 and facing a condensed schedule that could also include U.S. Open Cup and Leagues Cup (although there’s been no official word on either tournament).

“Hopefully I can impress the staff enough to be the guy behind Frei,” Richey said. “It will be tough for him to play all 34 games. Part of it will be me proving myself in training and potentially rotating Frei out.”