Ryan Richter has bounced around Major League Soccer hoping to find the right fit. He thinks he's found that in Toronto.
The 23-year-old, who spent a year on the bench with the Philadelphia Union and failed to catch on with D.C. United, finally made his MLS debut last weekend, acquitting himself well in Toronto's 1-1 tie with Philadelphia. Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen is a big believer in rewarding performance so Richter could get his first career start Saturday when the Toronto hosts the Houston Dynamo.
"It's finding a coach that believes in you and likes what they see in you, and once you've got the chance, you have to take it. That's what I'm trying to do right now," Richter said after practice Friday.
"I feel very comfortable here, I like Ryan (Nelsen) a lot and I'm learning a lot from him. If I can do the things he wants me to do, I think it will make me a better player and hopefully I can make this my home."
Richter, who helped the Charleston Battery of the USL Pro League win a championship last season, replaced injured Darel Russell at right back in the seventh minute last Saturday. It's an appearance that was that much sweeter coming against a team that let him go.
"I was ready for it and it was my hometown, so it was pretty cool," Richter said. "You're never expecting to go in in the seventh minute, but I was happy that I did."
Toronto (1-2-3) begins a stretch of six games in 18 days and the team's back line is sure to be tested. Russell and Richard Eckersley are still out with hamstring injuries while Ashtone Morgan is suspended after being sent off last weekend with his second yellow.
Lack of depth in past years has cost Toronto FC dearly. But not so this season, said defender Darren O'Dea.
"Whoever goes in in whatever position, it won't be a problem," O'Dea said. "We've got a bigger squad this year, a stronger squad, so injuries are going to happen and we'll have to deal with it.
"Last year was tough. It's easier when you're adapting with good players and that's what we're doing now, so it's not that hard at all."
Richter, a native of Southampton, Pa., was originally selected in the first round of the 2011 MLS supplemental draft by Philadelphia and signed with the Union before being sent on loan to the Harrisburg City Islanders of the USL Pro League. He also spent two months with D.C. United but was cut at the last minute, and eventually landed with Charleston.
Toronto scout Pat Onstad, a former assistant coach at D.C. United, brought Richter in, and he managed to outlast several other trialists to earn a contract.
Defender Danny Califf has helped Richter find his way with his new club.
"I played with Danny in Philly so he's kind of looked after me, he looked after me when I was there, so he's helped me out here too," Richter said. "It's great to have someone like him to kind of keep me in line and show me the ropes a little bit.
"Just talking to him every day, and learning something from him every day is important for me."
Califf was happy to see the young defender get into last Saturday's game.
"Obviously Danny saw I kind of had a hard time in Philly my first year and he saw how hard I worked and never really got the opportunity, so he was happy for me to do it, and in Philly. . . not just to get the chance," Richter said.
Nelsen said he sees plenty of potential in Richter.
"He's still a young guy, but we loved his character, we loved his willingness to learn, and him playing his first game, coming off the bench away from home, you would have thought he was an experienced player," the coach said. "He knows he's got a lot to work on, but we're in it for the long run with him."
One of Richter's strengths is his long throw-in, his ability to hurl the ball into the box with ease. One ball fell at Luis Silva's feet versus Philadelphia.
"It creates a chance, and if creating chances off throw-ins is what can get me on the field and keep me on the field, then I'll throw it in as far as I can every time I get in," Richter said. "I think we could get a couple of chances, maybe a couple of goals out of it."
Toronto faces stiff opposition from Houston (4-2-0), which holds the league record for the longest home unbeaten streak at a whopping 35 games. The Dynamo hasn't fared as well on the road, going 1-8-2 since defeating Toronto 2-0 last July.
"I like their team," O'Dea said. "I think they're one of the teams every MLS team should look at.
"The worst they'll ever be is hardworking, and that should be anyone's minimum standard. It's something we're trying to do."
Striker Danny Koevermans participated in some drills Friday for the first time since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last July.
Nelsen stayed late on the pitch to run with Koevermans after practice, and joked about being out of breath.
"He's joining in with the guys now," Nelsen said. "He's still a long way to go, but his strength is really good, now we just have to get him that football fitness and football movement.
"We had a little extra training session out there, him and the coaches and a few of the other players and he ran me ragged, so that's a good sign."