COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Colorado Rapids Homegrown product Shane O’Neill spent his 2013 bouncing around the globe with the US Under-20 national team and bouncing around different spots on the pitch during his breakout season with the Rapids. And the 20-year-old isn’t complaining about his well-traveled season at all.
But O’Neill wants to settle into one firm position in 2014, and he particularly wants to move back to his natural spot in the midfield. The Boulder native spent the overwhelming majority of the season at center back, pairing with Drew Moor to help the Rapids allow just 38 goals in 2013, tied for third-fewest in MLS.
O’Neill also played right back at points last season, but after playing as a midfielder for the overwhelming majority of his life, he hopes to return there next season.
“Hopefully I can play midfield next year,” he said after the Rapids’ last practice of the season earlier this month. “Hopefully I’ll be able to stick into the middle and because I think that’s probably my best position and I think I can make an impact going forward, so hopefully I’ll be able to play in there.”
After playing at center back for the US U-20 squad last year, the Rapids tried O’Neill at the same position during preseason, and when starting center back Diego Calderón suffered a long-term knee injury in March, O’Neill stepped in and impressed, starting 24 games and helping shore up one of MLS’ leakiest defenses in 2012. O’Neill’s size – he’s 6-foot-2 – instincts and aerial ability made him a natural fit at center back.
But Colorado head coach Oscar Pareja values versatility in his players, frequently choosing to play many of his players at several different positions. Pareja joked when asked about O’Neill’s desire to move back into the midfield, saying, “I think he’s very shy to tell you the truth. He wants to be a No. 9."
“It’s up to them,” O’Neill said of his desire to move to midfield. “We’ll talk about it and see what they think going forward is my best spot, because I really do want to solidify one position, not be moving around all the time.”
- Get more Colorado Rapids news at ColoradoRapids.com
While O’Neill said he plans to address his desire at year-end meetings with technical director Paul Bravo this month, he’ll ultimately accept wherever the Rapids want him to play.
“That’s the coach’s decision, depending on the players they’re going to be bringing in and stuff like that,” O’Neill said. “But I think it’s a lot to do with the preseason and how I come in. I think if I win that position, no matter if they’re needy or not, if I’m playing the best in the midfield, I’m playing the best in the midfield.
"It’s good experience because they know I can play in the back, they know I can play right back. But I think my best position is as a midfielder.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.