COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — For his high school graduation present last month, 18-year-old Boulder, Colo., native Shane O’Neill received his first professional contract with the Colorado Rapids.
Little did the lanky teenager know that a month later he’d be playing against an English Premier League team in his professional debut. In the 57th minute of the Rapids’ 2-1 win over EPL side Swansea City on Tuesday night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, O’Neill and fellow Homegrown player Davy Armstrong (making his home debut) were fittingly introduced at the same time.
WATCH: Kamani Hill scores vs. Swansea
O’Neill, in particular, flashed some of the ability that has seen the midfielder shoot up Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja’s depth chart in recent weeks.
“We believe in them,” Pareja said of his Homegrown players’ performances on Tuesday night. “That’s why we signed Shane, and Davy is progressing a lot this year. For me, it’s great and healthy to see the young guys come and step up today in the field. Tonight I go home thinking, ‘You know what, we have a lot of good things, and the team has good players.’”
O’Neill came in at Jeff Larentowicz’s holding midfield spot while Armstrong replaced Hunter Freeman at right back. Both players, especially O’Neill, showed a willingness to get forward, highlighted by a mazy 72nd-minute run that saw the Irish-born youngster weave around several defenders into the penalty box and nearly score.
All in all, the debuts left Pareja with a positive impression of his two youngsters.
“I like the personality that he has,” Pareja said of O’Neill. "He likes the ball and we are trying to teach him that the game requires some certain discipline. You have to be solid in that [holding midfield] position. You have to assume this is my responsibility first, then I am going with my possibilities. But he is eager to do it.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.