Rapids Homegrown O'Neill makes unexpected debut

Shane O'Neill of the Colorado Rapids in action

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Shane O’Neill wasn’t quite expecting to make Colorado Rapids history on Wednesday night. But sure enough, the 18-year-old now holds the distinction of becoming the first-ever Homegrown player to appear in an MLS match for the club.

The Boulder, Colo., native became just the second Homegrown Rapid to appear in a professional contest (fellow Homegrown player Davy Armstrong played in CONCACAF Champions League action last year) when he came on for Jeff Larentowicz in the 86th minute of Wednesday night’s 3-0 win over the Portland Timbers.

O’Neill didn’t register much in his five minutes of action, but for Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja, the teenager's introduction was more of a reward for a summer of hard work.

“[I’m] very proud and happy for Shane,” Pareja told reporters on Wednesday. “I thought he was waiting for this opportunity. I know this has been a special day for the club. It’s been a special day for Shane, his family, his coaches, the people who have been around him.”

O’Neill only signed his first professional contract with Colorado in June, but the defensive midfielder had already made his Colorado debut in a friendly against EPL side Swansea FC in July, and big things appear to be in the cards for him.

“I’ve been [champing] at the bit to come out and get out on the field,” O’Neill said after the game. “Swansea was fun, but I really wanted to get into the MLS because obviously that’s the serious stuff where the points matter. Tonight I was a bit nervous, but once I got a few touches on the ball, the game opened up for me a little bit and I relaxed a little bit.”

So does O’Neill think that he made enough of an impression on to warrant extra minutes in the future?

“Hopefully,” he said. “I think I did well in the five minutes I was on. Honestly, it’s the coach’s decision. I hope I made a good enough impression. I’ll just keep working hard and keep going forward, and keep improving for next year."

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.