CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Twelve months ago, Shane O’Neill was busy finishing his senior year of high school, fresh off a star campaign for Boulder’s Fairview High School basketball team.
This year, the Colorado Rapids Homegrown defender (above) is busy challenging Drew Moor for the starting center back spot, and the baby-faced 19-year-old might just beat out the 10-year pro.
After two impressive performances in his first two MLS starts, including being a part of the backline that shut out Real Salt Lake last weekend, Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja is considering leaving O’Neill in the starting lineup – potentially in place of Moor, who returns for Saturday’s game against Chivas (10:30 pm ET, MLS Live) after serving a two-game suspension.
“It’s a possibility,” Pareja said on Wednesday. “They did a good job. It’s our first game this year where we had a clean sheet and that’s important. At the same time, the importance of Drew’s leadership to this team is not a secret.”
Moor is returning from a two-game suspension for an arm to the face of Galaxy midfielder Marcelo Sarvas on March 23. A steady veteran who has started 108 games for Colorado since his August 2009 acquisition from FC Dallas, it would be a major upset if O’Neill, who was signed by Colorado last June and has just two MLS starts to his name, were to win the starting spot over Moor, who played every minute of every Rapids regular-season game last year.
But Pareja hasn’t been shy to express his appreciation for the play of youngsters Chris Klute and O’Neill after filling in for Moor and injured center back Diego Calderón, who is out four to five months following knee surgery.
And following the first shutout of the season for the Rapids, Pareja may play the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it card.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Pareja said. “I would rather have that problem and lose a little bit of sleep thinking about who I’m going to play instead of thinking, ‘Who am I going to play because everyone is hurt?’ This is a good problem.”
Meanwhile, technical director Paul Bravo said on Wednesday that the Rapids are working on bringing in a central defender in the wake of Calderón’s long-term injury and O’Neill’s likely call-up to the US U-20 World Cup team this summer. Bravo said that the player is a South American currently playing in Europe.
“We’ve inquired about a couple of players within the league,” Bravo said. “We have a player outside the league we’ve really focused our attention on. Whether we can get that done before the transfer window closes [on May 6] remains to be seen.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.