After so much success at developing MLS players through their academy in the last few years, the Union are now going to try to develop a second MLS coach that way.

Ryan Richter, a Southampton native who joined the coaching ranks after a seven-year playing career, was introduced Tuesday as Jim Curtin’s newest assistant. He replaces Pat Noonan, who recently left to become FC Cincinnati’s new manager.

Richter, 32, played soccer at William Tennent High and La Salle, then was taken by the Union in the 2011 supplemental college draft — effectively the fourth round of picks overall. He never played an official game for the team, though he did feature in a friendly against Real Madrid at Lincoln Financial Field where he went one-on-one with Cristiano Ronaldo.

At the end of 2011, the Union moved on from Richter and he started a journey that took him to six other pro teams. His peak came in 2013, when he played 15 games for Toronto FC’s senior squad.

He came back to Philadelphia in 2016 to play for the Union’s former USL team, then finished his pro career in 2017 with the lower-league team that has kept the famed New York Cosmos name alive.

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Soon after his playing days ended, Richter took a coaching job in the Union’s youth academy. He has worked his way up the ranks over the last four years. Most recently, he oversaw the under-15 age group and worked some with the Union reserve team under coach Marlon LeBlanc.

Richter told The Inquirer on Tuesday that he had long been interested in coaching, and specifically in working with his hometown team. When the opportunity came to work at the academy, he took it; and when the opportunity came to move up to the senior team’s staff, he didn’t hesitate.

“It’s been a goal since I joined the club in the coaching capacity, and really, since I met Ernst” Tanner, the Union’s sporting director, Richter said. “I was obviously really excited, and ready for it, to be honest — ready for a step back into the professional game.”

Richter spent a fair amount of time around the Union’s academy during his playing days, too, playing pickup games at the facilities in Wayne during the winter. He got to know Richie Graham, the Union part-owner who bankrolls the academy, and many coaches and staff.

“I always have been a fan of the project, and a fan of giving — especially kids from the Philly area — a pathway to start that process of becoming a pro earlier,” Richter said. “It’s always felt like the right place for me to be, and I always hoped that it would work out that I could work for the club in a coaching capacity when my [playing] career was done.”

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Just as importantly, he saw the growth of something that wasn’t possible when he was a kid: a pathway for highly-skilled young soccer players to turn pro in their late teens instead of their 20s — the way the rest of the world’s game does it.

“There’s always going to be some outliers or some kind of late developer where someone will surprise you, but the way that the American game is going, most of the talents are in the academy systems, which is a good thing,” Richter said. “I think that’s a sign of the American game growing, where more kids are taking the academy route and signing pro contracts when they’re 16, 17, 18, rather than coming out of the college system.”

While Richter is succeeding Noonan on Curtin’s bench, he won’t quite have the same job. In addition to being effectively the Union’s offensive coordinator, Noonan was clearly established as Curtin’s top assistant. Curtin said Richter will definitely have responsibilities with the team’s attack, but there won’t immediately be a new top assistant.

“Ryan will work a lot with our transition from defense to attack,” Curtin said. “It will be a little bit by committee to start with, but I think it will evolve into a role that, just like players, roles become clearer and responsibilities become clearer as we spend more time together.”

Curtin’s other assistants are Frank Leicht, whom Tanner knew in Germany before coming here; and Phil Weddon, who works mainly with the goalkeepers.

The Union had lots of applicants from other teams for the vacancy. That’s a testament to the quality of the culture that the club has built. But Richter made the most sense, Curtin said, for his acumen and for the desire to make that culture stronger.

“I’m a coach, and an example, that got his job in the academy at a very young age and worked my way up through the ranks,” Curtin said. “Ryan is a guy that has kind of quietly gone about his business with young players and just been really impressive, and really has embraced the philosophy that Ernst has instilled here.”

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