When Norwich City announced a partnership with USL Championship side Tampa Bay Rowdies at the end of January 2019, it came with the promise of players from the Canaries’s academy making the temporary switch across the Atlantic to gain competitive experience.
Less than a week later, that promise came true as it was agreed for Caleb Richards to join the American second-tier club on a season-long loan deal.
The defender, 20 at the time, would join Joe Cole’s former side in the USL as the first part of the agreement between the two sides.
Richards was no stranger to a loan deal. Born in Salford, the defender started his senior career with Blackpool, making his senior debut in the League Cup in August 2017. During his time with the Tangerines he had spells on loan at Marine, Warrington Town, Southport and Leek Town.
The defender left Blackpool in the summer of 2018, joining Norwich City on a three-year deal. Not long after he was out on loan again, this time with National League North with FC United of Manchester but it would be his next loan move which would take him much further from home when he joined the Rowdies in February 2019.
It proved to be the perfect move for both Richards and his new side as the defender went on to start every regular season match as the Rowdies finished fifth in the Eastern Conference and reached the postseason playoffs. Although his side lost against eventual finalists Louisville City in their playoff match, it would not put a dent in the impact the former Blackpool man had in Tampa. He made 35 starts, missing just two minutes of action all season.
Comfortable at centre-back, left-back and sometimes even asked to play left wing, Richards helped the Rowdies secure nine clean sheets during his spell and he also scored once himself, in a 4-1 triumph over St. Louis. He also provided 17 key passes, won 30 fouls and was only booked twice, showing excellent discipline.
The 21-year-old is now on loan at National League club Yeovil Town and made his debut for the Glovers last month in the FA Trophy.
I caught up with Caleb to learn more about his time in America.
English Players Abroad: How did the move to Tampa come about and was it something you were excited to do?
Caleb Richards: The move to Tampa came around as Norwich and Tampa have an affiliation so they were looking for a player in my position and someone willing to go.
EPA: How did you find living in Tampa, was it an enjoyable experience or difficult living away from family and friends?
CR: Living in Tampa was some of the best months of my life, the lifestyle is completely different. But it was still tough to be away from friends and family and even just English people in general.
EPA: What did you think of the standard of football in the USL? How did it compare to what you were use to?
CR: It’s hard to compare the USL to english leagues but I learnt a lot more there than I would through under- 23s football as there’s a variety of players that you wouldn’t come across in a youth setup.
EPA: It was your first full season as a regular in senior football, how would you assess your performances?
CR: I think I was consistent and that’s why i stayed in the team for every game . I think I had more to give but still played decent and got good game time under my belt.
EPA: Finally, would you like to play abroad again in the future?
CR: I would 100% play abroad in the future. I like to travel and that experience made me want to see other lifestyles and cultures and test myself against good players all across the world.
The connection between Norwich and Tampa Bay has continued this year with fellow defender Louis Lomas heading out to the States this season.