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Notes from the North End: Getting to know Spencer Richey

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We’re introducing a new monthly column by introducing readers to a local kid who is coming home.

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at FC Cincinnati Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Notes from the North End, a new monthly look at anything and everything Seattle Sounders.

You want player profiles? We’ll do that. You want insider stories about the club? We’ll deliver that too. Stories about players and their dogs? Yes, we will do that. You want hardcore statistical analysis of the various formations and personnel combinations throughout the season? We probably won’t do that, but you never know. Want to argue about the best pubs for Sounders fans around the city? Yes. I’ll meet you there.

Notes from the North End is a little different look at the team than you might be used to from Sounder at Heart. From my seats behind the north goal at Lumen Field and from my home in the northern reaches of the city, I will examine the players, the club, the city, and the fans with some levity, some new takes, and whatever happens to be in the news each month.

As we get set for the first match of the season, please enjoy this month’s edition. Go Sounders.

Spencer Richey is hungry

I had the pleasure of sitting down virtually with goalkeeper Spencer Richey recently, and I’m here to tell you all that you are really going to like this guy. It’s hard not to.

At the end of last season I told a friend that the Sounders had a goalkeeper problem. I knew it wouldn’t be a popular take, given that we have Stefan Frei in goal and have come to rely on his durability and the brick wall he builds in front of the net. But Frei is 34 years old and the coming season is intense, with teams playing up to three league games a week, plus non-MLS competitions. Even a superhero like Frei is likely to need a break now and again, and at the end of last season we just didn’t have much experience behind #24.

As I sat down to write about that issue back in February, the Sounders simultaneously announced the signing of Spencer Richey and the loan of Trey Muse to San Diego. Suddenly we had a lot of MLS experience in goal. To the trash heap with that article…

Richey grew up a goal kick away from the University of Washington and ended up playing for the Huskies, where he made 71 appearances over four years and earned 30 clean sheets. At UW he played with a guy named Cristian and played against guys named Jordan (Stanford) and Kelyn (UCLA). He played academy soccer at Crossfire and made 10 appearances with the Tacoma Tide. His credentials as a “Seattle guy” are impeccable, but this isn’t just a homecoming for him. He’s hungry for more and the offer from Seattle was the best fit for him among all the teams he was talking to after being released by Cincinnati. In fact, it’s safe to say that “Seattle” isn’t why Richey is with the Sounders. The family, friends, and familiarity are all just a bonus.

Richey brings with him 29 games of first-team experience at FC Cincinnati, where he performed very well behind a team that struggled mightily on the pitch. He turns 29 in May and there is still a lot of fuel in the tank, so please, let’s put to rest the idea that he is here to “finish out his career” or “retire a Sounder.” That isn’t his plan at all. He wants to compete for the starting position. He wants to win in training. He wants to win, period. He knows he likely has a decade of good playing years ahead of him, and he’s not here to relax and just be a “Seattle guy.”

“I love Seattle. But I have my whole life to live in Seattle. I’m career focused right now, and my decision to sign with the Sounders was about my connections to the coaching staff, and the prestige of a club that is competing for cups every year. Obviously, I want Frei’s job, and I tell him that all the time. I’m ready to step in whenever Frei decides to stop being a superhero out there.”

It also helped that one of the guys on the other end of the phone calls trying to get Spencer to the Sounders was goalkeeper coach Tommy Dutra, with whom Spencer has had a relationship for some time. Richey has trained with Dutra off and on since 2002, when Dutra was an assistant at Pacific Lutheran. Dutra is reported to have followed Richey’s career pretty closely, and among other things he is very high on Richey’s work rate in training.

It’s safe to say that he also fits the Brian Schmetzer “tough kid” mentality. Richey suffered a serious leg injury his senior season at UW, and after six months of rehab, rejoined the team on their way to an NCAA tournament berth. He has always come back stronger from all of his knocks and injuries through the years. That’s part of what Dutra loves about the guy — he hasn’t lost a step and has stayed strong.

While Richey made the most of his time in Cincinnati and featured as the starter for most of his time there, starting for a team that struggled as much as they did and starting for the Sounders are very different things.

“The next step for me is to earn that starting job at a top club, and Seattle is a top club where players want to come play. I’m no exception to that.”

Fans are going to really enjoy having Spencer Richey on the squad. You couldn’t ask to meet a nicer guy, he has all the talent he needs to compete for that starting role, and I promise you that the pre-match fashion shots are going to heavily feature his wardrobe. The man knows his way around an outfit.

Richey came home to work hard. He’s after a starting job, and he’s going to go for it. “It would be a sort of fairy tale finish to (start) here in Seattle, but if it’s not the right fit next year or the year after, I’m certainly still hungry to move to a place where I can become a starter.”

In the meantime, Richey is definitely at home in Seattle. But it’s not the same Seattle he left many years ago.

“I was away for six years and came back to find that my favorite teriyaki place is gone, for example, so I’m having to reinvent my Seattle self a little bit and try some new spots. I’m open to suggestions from your readers if they have places I need to check out.”

You heard it here first, folks. Spencer Richey is literally hungry and many of his old haunts are gone, so comment below to let Spencer know what joints he and his wife should add to their fledgling list of places to check out.

What to watch

The pandemic sent most of us scrambling to our televisions for entertainment and stress relief, and many of us discovered new shows or old shows we hadn’t had time to watch in normal times. There are dozens of soccer related programs out there, and this month, we’re (re)watching Ted Lasso.

When I first heard that Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Spin City, Cougar Town) was working with Jason Sudeikis to turn the NBC promotional character Ted Lasso into a comedy series, I told my writing partner that whatever they produced was going to be a smash hit. There may not be a better producer of short form television than Lawrence, and the character of Lasso was a perfect choice for a really adventurous project. Add to that the money that Apple was willing to throw at the endeavor, and you have a perfect recipe.

The main premise of the pilot episode is familiar to anyone who has watched the movie “Major League.” A disgruntled owner wants to tank the team for some reason, in this case to get revenge on a philandering ex-husband who loved the team more than he loved even his mistresses. So American football coach Ted Lasso from Kansas is brought in to manage (and ruin) the fictional AFC Richmond club, a mediocre Premier League team with a rabid fanbase.

On paper, it was always going to be a challenge to get an American audience to watch a show about soccer, which is why this soccer show isn’t about soccer at all.

I’ll spare you any plot recaps or spoilers here, but let me just say that Ted Lasso and the team that put it together (including Zach Braff, who earned a Director’s Guild Award for episode two of the first season and pioneered a camera dolly that wouldn’t tear up the grass on the pitch while filming) built a show that was a perfect balm for a pandemic world. Lasso’s relentless optimism, the feel-good stories on and off the fictional pitch, and the way they deal with human emotions and interactions make it one of the best shows on right now. Of the show, Lawrence said he wanted to make something “that not only has heart but is optimistic and hopeful, in a time we could use that.”

If you’ve already watched it, it’s worth another spin if for no other reason than to catch moments like this:

Lasso and his assistants are trying to come up with a pet name for their little problem-solving team. After tossing about several ideas, one character suggests “The Proud Boys?”

Assistant Coach Nate “immediately vomits into his bucket.” (Yes, that’s the actual stage direction in the script).

That’s good stuff.

If you’ve already binged Ted Lasso and are dying for more, don’t worry. The show was picked up for seasons two and three immediately after its premiere, and season two is in production as I write this, with plans for release in late summer 2021. Ted Lasso can be found on AppleTV+, and it’s worth the free trial to watch. As a bonus, you can also watch Beastie Boys Story on the same platform.

What to read

Speaking of Ted Lasso, in the pilot episode Coach Beard (played brilliantly by Brendan Hunt) is reading Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson on an overnight flight to London. The 2009 book chronicles the history of soccer formations and strategies through the decades, and even for a casual soccer fan is an excellent companion to watching the sport. If you want more soccer geekdom than this column provides or simply want to understand what Steve Zakuani is saying during Sounders matches, I highly recommend picking this up. It’s also obscure enough that you can pretty safely buy it as a gift for the soccer loving people in your life. The book was put to heavy use in the writer’s room on Ted Lasso. I happen to know that the Seattle Library system has several copies in circulation.

A (not so bold) prediction

It’s time to break out the old #17 jersey. The off-season move of the year will prove to be bringing Fredy Montero (now sporting #12) back into the Rave Green fold. Montero has, by all accounts, been a force in training and has arrived with a positive attitude and a real desire to compete and win. In the final pre-season match against San Diego, he was energetic and showed flashes of the Fredy we all remember from his first spell with the Sounders. Watch for him to score a lot of goals this year, paired at the front with Raul Ruidiaz or Will Bruin.

And generally speaking, I think we can rightly expect more scoring from this year’s team. Coach Schmetzer has committed to some form of a two-forward set, which does come at the cost of opening up the defense a bit, but should make for some really exciting soccer.

Fans in stands

Compared with much of the country and considering that the first super-spreader events in the United States started here in Western Washington, Seattle has done a very good job of dealing with the pandemic. You’ve stayed home. You’ve worn your masks. You’ve kept your distance from others. You’ve shivered your way through pints of IPA on sidewalks and patios in the dead of winter. We’re not done yet, but we’re close. Can you feel it?

7,000 fans in Lumen Field will not rock the house, but it’s a start. I don’t know about the rest of you, but coming back to the stadium for the first time has been a moment I’ve been anticipating since the first games were canceled last season. My tear ducts are all warmed up for hearing Boom Boom Clap, Purple Haze, and James Woollard’s booming voice announcing the starting lineup. If you see me in tears, they are tears of joy, I promise.

Whatever your comfort level for returning to the stands, I respect it. I hope by summer we have a full stadium once again, but for those of you who will be there on Friday night against Minnesota United, I can’t wait to see you.

I’ll be in the North End.