AT age 28, Dane Richards thinks he has scored the two most important goals in his career on Tuesday night.
Those goals have propelled Jamaica into the CONCACAF World Cup final round qualification, which allayed fears of a nation on the brink of elimination from the Brazil 2014 World Cup campaign.
Richards scored Jamaica's last two goals in the 78th and 88th minutes at a time when the country needed goals to beat Antigua and Barbuda 4-1 at the National Stadium and ensured qualification to the next round.
The USA topped the group with 13 points and Jamaica finished second with 10 points, the same as Guatemala, but only advanced with a superior goal difference of +3, to the Central Americans’ +1.
Those two goals were the ones Richards scored, and when quizzed by the Jamaica Observer if these goals were the most important of his career, Richards said without hesitation. “Definitely man!”
Richards burst onto the scene as a schoolboy and led Cornwall College to the daCosta Cup and all-island Olivier Shield titles before moving to San Jacinto College in Houston, where he scored a record 45 goals in two years, including a school-record 25 as a sophomore.
So Richards is no stranger to scoring goals, having netted 10 times for his country and 21 times for the New York Red Bulls in a five-year span. But these two came at a time when the entire Jamaica needed them badly.
“We wanted to go to the next round and it was our fault why we weren't secured. When we went to Antigua we should have won and got three points and then we gave up a goal late in Guatemala. So we wanted to come here and get back the fans in the stadium,” said Richards.
The speedy winger, who was in July traded from New York Red Bulls to Vancouver Whitecaps in the Major League Soccer (MLS), has already scored three goals.
Richards is due to join English Championship side Burnley on January 1, 2013 after the end of the MLS season.
But although Richards was the man who finished off the opportunities, it could be considered fair to credit other persons for those precious goals. To start, head coach Theodore Whitmore made a master move by asking Richards to play in the head as a striker where he benefited from two well-worked assists by Rodolph Austin and Jermaine Hue.
Austin went by three players and cut back the ball perfectly into his path for him to score. Ten minutes later, Hue, with a beautifully weighted 30-yard pass, picked out the diminutive Richards who volleyed home delicately for his second.
“Maestro. The boss! All I had to do was continue running, it was the perfect pass,” said Richards of Hue’s searching pass.
“I am winger and when I get the right ball I can be very dangerous, but wherever the coach puts me I am happy to play there,” he noted.
“I was outside, but my game is to play the ball in space, but the balls that I was getting, the defender was right in my back and most of the ball I was losing, so I was more relaxed and free and I know Jermaine Hue would find me and I was much more influential in the game,” he added.
“Now the real work starts,” said Richards. “Now is the crucial time, we can’t slip-up like how we slip-up in this round, we have to take care of the work early,” he said.