… Guyanese soccer star signs MLS deal, creates history
By Gary H. Tim
Late Friday night in Denver, a high energy song blared from his hi-tech phone. It was the Christian Metal band Holy Soldier grinding out lyrics “We are young … we are strong … born in this world where we know we belong” on the ring tone – an ideal inspirational idiom for Gregory ‘Jackie Chan’ Richardson’s football (soccer) passion.
It was 12 hours after a late morning official signing of the eagerly awaited contract that puts Richardson into the soccer annals of Guyana as its first US Major League Soccer (MLS) player.
And, the half day period was ample in, not only transforming the Guyana national striker’s economic fortunes, but also his psychological kismet as his name is switched on in the Colorado Rapids’ roster lights
The signing re-solidified Richardson’s jaunty, but assertive character.
“Since I signed is like my whole body feel different.”
He said that prior to Friday his mental and physical approaches were not coherent.
“All the time like when I train, my body wants to go but my mind wasn’t focused. Now, I feel light and ready like when I am back home.”
And the nippy, slight striker’s heart reaches to his compatriots.
“I grateful to do this for Guyana … to get a natural born and grow Guyanese to come out onto this big stage.” Richardson wants to see his good fortune “lead to other people coming out and improving our soccer.”
The contract covers Richardson for one year with the possibility of extension to four,” according to Richardson’s agent Rob Ross who is also the Managing Director of MV (Most Valuable) Sports Management.
The deal nets the star striker US$75, 000, including a signing bonus.
Terms for additional incentives are also included in the contract should Richardson pick up club and league awards such as MVPs, MLS All-Star selections, etc.
Minutes after exposing his crafty talent at an in-club training session, Richardson inked the indenture in the team’s club house with Rapids’ Corporate Accounts Executive Erik Bechtold and Technical Director Paul Bravo. On Richardson’s side to broker the deal were his US-based manager Garth M. Nelson and Ross.
Colorado got Richardson in an exchange with Toronto FC for a natural second round 2010 Super Draft pick. The Guyanese has been with Colorado for just under two weeks, but already the Denver-based club is shouting its fortunes for netting “a golden prospect with the Jaguars striker”, according to the Trinidadian-born Ross who once served as an executive with the MLS.
Ross agreed that Richardson was a highly-sought-after commodity “not only in the MLS, but in the wider soccer world that saw his calibre playing for Joe Public in the CONCACAF Champions League through Fox Soccer Channel TV.” At the MLS level, five teams were in the running for the Guyanese, including Toronto and 2008 finalist New York Red Bulls. “This was after a variety of original teams that laid claims to his discovery pick were flushed-out when he wasn’t signed by the end of the year,” Ross noted.
“We now have concluded this part of Gregory’s personal aspirations and the Rapids’ organizational growth, so it’s now Gregory’s duty to let his game live up to and even go beyond expectations,” Ross indicated, adding that he has left Richardson with a simple word of counsel, “consistency.”
Late last month when Richardson got to Denver, head coach Gary Smith had expressed the hope that his new find will be a wonderful addition to his club’s youthful and exciting frontline. “I think we are adding a very explosive and athletic forward who I believe has a huge amount of potential.”
Now, after a few pre-season games and training sessions, Richardson is confident that the club likes what it sees in him. He said his onus is to prove himself with the team and take the club to a championship. “Coachman has been telling me ‘that is what I want to see from you’ steady, steady,” he said referring to Smith’s observations of his on-field display. “The team like me, you know … they say that once I get going I look like I’d make this team go far.”
But, it hasn’t been all silky striking for the soccer star in his new environment. Richardson is still trying to thaw out his unfamiliarity with the mile-high city’s chilly climes. “They could see that I ain’t accustom to this kind of weather, but I getting a lot of help to deal with it, especially at this time (tail-end of the winter season). I usually wear gloves and them kinda’ things when training.” However, he took a short time to get over the ‘cultural shock’ in the south-western state. “The team is a good one with a nice coaching staff. Nobody is a favourite here, everybody getting to know and appreciate one another and I like it here, already. The people around are really nice.”
Richardson shares the players’ roster with other foreigners from Argentina, England, Japan, Senegal, Morocco, Nigeria and Jamaican-born striker Omar Cummings. He said, he and Cummings are “hitting it off already as a pair of Caribbean-born strikers”, and that he will likely share lodgings with the Jamaican when the season starts.
Fans, too, are incessantly blogging their outlook of Richardson being a goal-scoring torrent for the Rapids, with many discussing the striker’s potential and origin. One blogger even corrected another’s post which had referred to Guyana as an island, stating “It’s not your fault, it’s the education system.” That prompts Richardson to view his presence on the big stage as a fillip to Guyana’s image building.
“It’s time for me to create that popularity.”
On the blogs, fans are also curious over another engaging version of the team’s post-scoring antics, knowing the Guyanese carries the moniker ‘Jackie Chan’.
“Could an Asian Beckham team up with a South American Jacky Chan be what we really need up front?” states blogger rorysm in a humorous hint to teammate and Japanese international Kosuke Kimura and Richardson pulling of decisive plays.
“My aim is to achieve for myself, my club, my family, my country and everybody depending on me.” For the moment, Richardson hasn’t ruled out parlaying a signature move from the Asian-American martial-arts film star whose name he carries. “I know people curious about the name, and when the time comes, I will think about what I’ll do in some way, regarding that,” he said, reminding that he will continue to carry some Guyana motif on his peripheral clothing.
“I really thankful for the support from all my relatives and friends, my clubs Joe Public in Trinidad and Pele in Guyana,” Richardson repeated often during the interview with this newspaper. He also pumped unbridled gratitude to the Guyana Football Federation and its president, Colin Klass; Nelson; Ross; as well as American fitness expert Tony Dees; Colin Baker, Vic Wright and Bill Adams and their families in Florida where he played with the Toronto club before moving to Colorado. “Well I can’t stop thanking these people, especially Mr. Klass who played a great part in the transfer part … I just want say thanks, you know … I just want to make my country proud, you know.”
Gregory ‘Jackie Chan’ Richardson is assured that that knowledge is evident in Guyana and further afield, and history will chronicle that his youthfulness and prowess underlined on Friday that he scored the most historic Guyana goal to show that he belongs.