COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Steven Emory is unlikely to even be on the bench for the Colorado Rapids’ home opener on Saturday against the Portland Timbers.
The 21-year-old arrives to an MLS Cup-defending team that has gone largely unchanged from last year. And, as a rookie walk-on straight out of college and untried at the professional level, he’s too inexperienced to immediately fit into the Rapids’ first team.
However, the former Denver-based Metro State College standout may just be the most unique addition to the Rapids’ roster.
Gary Smith’s team has typically relied heavily on defensive and wide midfielders getting the ball to the strike pairing of Omar Cummings and Conor Casey. What Colorado have lacked is a true playmaker to create such chances. And that’s just what Emory brings.
Emory became an indispensable cog in Metro State’s team once he had moved past his freshman year, precisely because he likes to control the game offensively in the center of the park.
“He is a true creative midfielder,” Ken Parsons, head coach at Metro State, told MLSsoccer.com. “He was the [puppeteer] that pulled all the strings. I think he is, therefore, a very different player from [Jeff] Larentowicz and Pablo [Mastroeni].”
Emory is not going to break apart one of the most successful central midfield partnerships in MLS anytime soon, but Smith will be monitoring the youngster’s progress when he does get his chance in reserve games and perhaps US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League matches.
Parsons said the youngster has both the professional and personal qualities needed to make it at the pro level.
“He has always had a great engine as a midfielder – it doesn’t matter whether it’s the 10th minute or even the 110th minute of a game,” he said. “His passing is the best I have seen and his distribution is impeccable, whether it be with the left or right foot. He is also a very good student, very conscientious and he has all the attributes you need as a good professional already.”
Smith knows he has a real find in Emory as a soccer player. The youngster has impressed way beyond initial expectations during preseason with goals and assists aplenty. And while production on the pitch is important, equally as vital to the Rapids’ coach is that a player be as good in the locker room, something Emory should have no problem with.
“Steven will not get rattled easily,” Parsons said. “This is a dream come true for him and he is not the type of person who won’t work hard to keep that dream alive.”
Emory told MLSsoccer.com that he had always dreamed of being a professional soccer player and that a key stepping stone in realizing that dream was a game he played for Metro State against the Rapids in preseason back in 2009.
The Roadrunners were on the back of a 6-0 drubbing that day. But as the game progressed, Emory realized that he could live with the extra pace and technical skill of the pro game.
“We got killed that day, but I increasingly felt comfortable playing against those guys,” said Emory. “That game really helped me believe that this was what I wanted to do and it was a great feeling to know that you could compete with these guys.”
Nick Thomas covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rapidsstuff.