Matt Bentley has had a strong start to his Richmond Kickers career, contributing two goals thus far while becoming a fan favorite. The Rivercity93 team recently had the opportunity to catch up with him to learn about how he's settling in, his background in the game, and what makes him tick off the field.
RC: You have had a strong start thus far. What are some things you had to get comfortable with and used to playing in USL League 1?
MB: Thank you. I’m happy with how it’s begun, but I need to make sure that I continue to improve and don’t get comfortable so that I keep my place in the team with there being such fierce competition in the forward line. One thing I’ve had to get used to is the intensity of games. As teams can make five substitutions in the USL, I feel that teams are constantly attacking and pressing whereas, in England, where there are only three subs, there can be phases in the game where it slows down. Also, there are less clear cut chances in these games so you have to be ruthless in front of goal when they come. It’s not about the next chance, it’s about taking the chance that’s there now!
RC: What attracted you to playing in Richmond? What about Darren's style of play convinced you to sign?
MB: The competitiveness of the team and the chance to compete for a regular-season title as well as the playoffs is what attracted me to Richmond the most. I knew from the previous summer the type of players that were going to be here when I signed, so throughout the season I know there will be plenty of chances for me to score and be successful here. Darren’s emphasis on getting into the opponent's final third convinced me to sign because, as I said earlier, it means that there will be more chances to score.
RC: Who has been the player to help you get adjusted to living in Richmond and being a professional player?
MB: All the boys have been pretty good to be fair and it’s gonna sound like a cop out answer but different teammates have helped with different things. I feel like I’ve lived the last year professionally anyway when I was at Dover, so there wasn’t too much help needed to live professionally here. Christian Molina is my roommate so naturally we talk a lot and we do quite a few things together, but I’m close with Will (Palmquist) and Chandler (O'Dwyer) too.
RC: Describe your playing style and your role on the pitch.
MB: I’m a very direct player and my first thought is always to go forwards. I offer a different option going forward for sure in terms of movement in behind, dribbling with the ball and ultimately finishing. My role on the pitch is to score goals and help lead our team to wins.
RC: You were drafted by Minnesota United in 2020 but were released. How did this motivate you, and what did you take away from the experience?
MB: Yeah, 2020 was probably the hardest year of my life from a footballing perspective because, like everyone else, Covid completely derailed my plans. Being drafted was cool and it was a great experience going into an MLS environment and testing myself with one of the best teams and some of the best players at the time in the MLS. What I can take away from it is that I can eventually play there as otherwise, I wouldn’t have been there in the first place. Getting released was tough because the timing of it made it difficult to find another team, however, I learnt a lot from it in terms of being a pro and taking care of my body and still speak to some of the players from my time there now. The facilities, standard of players/training and general way of life have motivated me to work relentlessly to get back to that level and beyond.
RC: You spent last year at Lionsbridge FC. How did that help your game improve, and what do you miss the most from playing there?
MB: I loved playing for Lionsbridge and it helped my game improve a lot because, as I was one of the leaders in the team, there was almost more pressure to deliver which I feel like I did. Also, I was back to playing intense games weekly so it helped me get some consistency back. I miss the fans the most as I feel like we had a good connection. I’m planning on going to a game or two this season with them being so close by. Thankfully, I still keep in contact with a few of them and they come to watch me here in Richmond when they can which makes me really happy. Honestly, nothing is better than when people come specifically to watch you play.
RC: You spent time in the Isthmian League with Hornchurch and National League with Dover Athletic. What are some differences and similarities between those leagues and USL?
MB: The national league is certainly a lot more physical than the USL I would say. It sounds so English, but in the national league, it’s about winning your battles/headers, running the channels and holding the ball up etc -- especially as a striker. In the USL, I feel that there’s a greater emphasis on playing so teams are less physical but concentrate more on patterns of play which I prefer. A similarity between the leagues is the quality of players. The national league is a really competitive league with a lot of young pros just starting in the game mixed in with some quality experienced players who have been in the game for a while. In the USL it’s almost exactly the same, especially because the majority of people are on 1 and 1 contracts so there’s a lot of movement of players between teams in the same league.
RC: You are an Arsenal fan; who do you model your game after and why? What made you fall in love with Football and Arsenal?
MB: I can’t lie, Arsenal is a very touchy subject right now and I’m getting bantered left, right and centre. Thierry Henry is my idol though and like thousands of other kids when I was younger I copied everything he did. Socks above the knees, number 14 and the Mercurial Vapours too. My Dad is an Arsenal fan and in England it’s common law that you follow your Dad's team so I would say I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. I love everything about it though. Watching games at the Emirates, travelling up and down England with my friends watching them play, I love it all! No matter how bad we are I’ll never stop loving Arsenal. I fell in love with football because of the emotions it creates. I love watching it but I love playing it even more. Honestly, the few seconds after you’ve scored a goal are some of the best moments ever and the feeling will never get old.
RC: We heard that you are a sneakerhead. What are your top 3 sneakers of all time?
MB: Top 3 of all time, that’s a hard question! One of them has to be the all-white Air Force 1. I couldn’t tell you how many pairs I’ve had over the years; it goes with almost everything and is such a reliable shoe. They’re a £100 nowadays (ed: $126 US) which is cheeky from Nike, but because they’re such a staple they’ll always sell. My other two are the Nike LD Waffle Sacai’s (the black and white ones) and then the Jordan 1 x Dior high tops. They’re so clean, but the price of them is bonkers.
RC: In your off time, what are some things you like to do to relax? What are some of your hobbies outside of Football?
MB: I like to hang out with my friends a lot, especially after games, because it helps me completely relax. I’ve got friends in quite a few different time zones, so I’m always on WhatsApp talking to them too. I read a fair bit as well because I like learning new things and it keeps me from just constantly being on my phone. Stereotypically, I spend a fair bit of time on the PS5 as well. I’ve recently started learning the piano.
Thank you to Matt Bentley for taking the time to answer our questions and provide an insight into his life. Is there another player you'd like to hear from? Let us know via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter at @rivercity93, or on Instagram at @rivercity93
Photo credit: Richard Hayes- RVAHub