Former UNA standout signs professional soccer contract

Former UNA forward Chloe Richards dribbles ahead against Tampa in the NCAA Division II playoffs last fall. Richards signed a professional contract with the SC Sand of the German Bundesliga in February.

by Sports Editor Mike Ezekiel

Former UNA standout soccer player Chloe Richards signed a professional contract with a team from the German Bundesliga, the top league in Germany, last week.

Richards, who led all of Division II last season with 26 goals and is the second-leading scorer in UNA’s history, signed with the SC Sand and plans to leave for Germany March 14 to begin her professional career.

Richards said it is an honor to represent her university on the professional level.

Everybody here (at UNA) made this possible for me,” Richards said. “If I hadn’t come to UNA, I don’t know what would have happened. They’ve really helped me develop as a player.”

The two-time Division II All-American explored offers from teams in Finland, but ultimately decided the German Bundesliga was the best fit.

The league consists of 12 teams. SC Sand, who is in fourth place this season, faces Bayern Munich in Richards’ first game. Bayern Munich has the highest league record this season.

“(Bayern Munich) is like the New York Yankees of soccer,” said UNA coach Chris Walker. “They are arguably one of the five top teams in the world, and they’re in the same league as (SC Sand). The league is probably the second or third best league in the world.”

Claudio Marcone, a women’s soccer agent who represented players in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, worked with Richards and helped her close the deal.

Richards said her contract lasts from March 14, 2016, to July 2017, spanning two full seasons. The deal includes a place to live and travel, on top of her salary, which Richards did not disclose. Richards said she is content at this point in her career.

“It’s a great start,” she said. “The good thing with a lot of these situations is that they provide housing and flights. That takes a lot of my costs away, so that really helps a lot.”

Richards, who majors in Exercise Science, is set to graduate in May and hopes to have her work completed before going to Germany. She said at the latest, she might push graduation back to this summer.

“Dr. (Thomas) Coates has been really helpful,” Richards said. “I’m trying to work with him to get things sorted out. I wouldn’t have taken (the pro contract) if I wasn’t going to be able to finish my degree. I have been here four years and not for nothing.”

Seeing a student athlete work hard to finish his or her degree before taking an opportunity of this caliber means a lot, said UNA Athletic Director Mark Linder.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for her, and I appreciate the academic community working with her to give her the opportunity to go,” Linder said. “Graduating is important to her and important to us.”

Linder said Richards fits the athletic department’s motto.

“We talk about ‘graduating champions’ a lot,” Linder said. “Chloe is a champion. In all my years of being in athletics, and I’m including myself in this comment, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anybody work harder than Chloe. She is a great ambassador for the University of North Alabama.”

Walker said Richards going pro hopefully puts the Lions on the map as a perennial soccer program.

“It’s obviously good for all of us here at UNA,” Walker said. “She deserves what she gets. She works hard, and it’s nice to see where she goes from here. We knew she’d play somewhere, and the level she ended up at is fantastic.”