During the 2011-12 Development Academy Playoffs on Monday, Colorado Rapids U-17/18 holding midfielder Shane O’Neill displayed a level of maturity that recently helped make him the second Homegrown Player signing in the MLS team’s history.
The 18-year-old O’Neill, who signed a professional contract with the Rapids on June 19, was forced into duty as a center back following a teammate’s injury early in the first half of Monday’s 4-1 win against South Carolina United Battery in Group 4 play.
After being issued a yellow card in the first 25 minutes, O’Neill was able to manage the situation, seeing out the half before the Rapids made some tactical changes at halftime that allowed O’Neill to move back into the midfield.
“It wasn’t the most comfortable half of my life,” O’Neill said with a laugh following the match.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound midfielder scored the Rapids’ final goal of the match, finishing a scramble in front of goal in the 85th minute.
Rapids U-17/U-18 head coach Brian Crookham explained how the Development Academy has helped nurture the Irish-born O’Neill’s talents during his time coming up through the club’s youth system.
“I think it’s been massive,” Crookham said. “Every season he gets better and better and better. I think that (Development Academy) environment is something he needed to really take hold of all the talent that’s in him.”
“He’s a sponge,” Crookham said. “The information that he gets not only at the Academy level, but at the first team level, he takes every bit of that information on board. He’s a monster physically, he’s very competent technically and he’s got a great engine to just keep going and going.”
Born in Midleton, Ireland, and possessing dual citizenship for both the United States and Ireland, O’Neill has been training with the Rapids’ first team since February and has appeared in four MLS Reserve League matches this season, including playing the full 90 minutes on June 9 in a 3-1 win against Sporting Kansas City. While absorbing instructions and advice from current Rapids midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, O’Neill credited the Development Academy for helping him attain his goal of becoming a professional soccer player.
“It has paved the way for my development,” O’Neill said. “Playing with the best players in the state has really helped me out and with the option to play with the reserves and the first team, it has helped me out quite a bit.”
This week, O’Neill’s focus is helping the Rapids U-17/18 team clinch a spot in the Development Academy Finals Week in Houston in July.
“I think if we stay focused we’ll get through. I think the team’s desire is there and if we can just stay focused, we can get it done,” O’Neill said.