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Midfield or bust? Colorado Rapids' Shane O'Neill changes tune on transition to center back

Shane O'Neill

Photo Credit: 
USA Today Sports

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Colorado Rapids defender Shane O’Neill wants to be a midfielder, but there’s a problem: he’s too good of a center back.

At the beginning of the offseason, the 20-year-old rising star said he preferred a move to midfield – his natural position through high school and the beginning of his professional career (he only switched to center back in late 2012). But interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni told MLSsoccer.com on Sunday that he sees O’Neill as a center back not just for this season, but in the long run.

“We all want to be goalscorers and we all want to be on the front page, driving fast cars, getting the big contracts,” Mastroeni said. “Everyone’s idealistic, especially young guys.

"I think Shane is a guy that is capable of playing in the midfield, however, I think that if [US national team head coach] Jurgen Klinsmann is calling you up as a center back, there’s a lot of thinking to be done about switching those positions.”

After a January call-up to the US national team, O’Neill appears to be increasingly open to a permanent switch to center back – although he still has that hard-to-knock instinct to push forward.

“Some [center backs] like to just be simple, hopefully I can try and get a little bit more forward this year from the center back position,” O’Neill told MLSsoccer.com on Sunday. “I think the [coaching staff] has faith in me wherever they put me.”

Fellow center back and team captain Drew Moor admits he’s selfishly pulling for O’Neill to stay along the backline. After original starter Diego Calderón’s long-term knee injury in March, O’Neill stepped in and never let go of the starting center-back spot last year, pairing with Moor 21 times to help Colorado allow just 38 goals in 2013, tied for the second-best mark in the Western Conference and tied for the third-best mark in MLS.

“In my opinion, he’s one of the best center backs in the league, right now,” Moor told MLSsoccer.com. “He’s going to be a center back, in my opinion, on the national team for a long time to come, [and] I don’t say that about too many people.” 

Mastroeni echoed Moor’s thoughts on the Rapids’ Homegrown budding star.

“It’s all about what Shane wants for his career,” Mastroeni said. “He’s got the physical abilities, the technical ability, and more importantly he’s got the psychological perspective to fight through tough times. He’s got all the necessary tools.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.