COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Ross LaBauex got his typical few minutes of game action against Houston last weekend, coming on for a spent Omar Cummings late in the game to ensure a hard-fought draw for the Rapids.
It’s a scenario the 21-year-old rookie midfielder has gotten used to in his debut season for Colorado. So far, LaBauex has played only 59 minutes in four games. His main role appears essentially to come on late in the game and help secure whatever points the team has.
The University of Virginia alum did have a different opportunity, however, in the Rapids’ last game before the World Cup break when Colorado secured a 2-2 draw in Chicago on June 9. Rapids captain Pablo Mastroeni was suspended from that game because of a red card against Columbus a few days earlier.
While most expected Rapids head coach Gary Smith to play more established first-teamers such as Mehdi Ballouchy in Mastroeni’s role, with wider players like Jamie Smith or Wells Thompson starting on the outside, Smith opted instead to start LaBauex. That choice spoke volumes for the high esteem in which the rookie is held in the club.
Unfortunately for LaBauex, the experiment lasted only 45 minutes. The Rapids were being somewhat dominated by Chicago after taking a 1-0 lead through Cummings and Smith chose to shake up the formation for the second half. LaBauex was sacrificed, the Rapids turned things around and eventually deserved at least the 2-2 draw. LaBauex said he had taken the substitution on the chin.
“I always do what is best for the team,” LaBauex told MLSsoccer.com. “It was a tactical change and, when the coach made that clear, I can’t be sad about it. Such things happen and we got the point.”
What was enjoyable about the game on a personal note was that it gave LaBauex an opportunity to play in front of family and friends in his hometown. Born and bred in Chicago, the midfielder played club soccer with the title-winning Chicago Magic SC and also played with the Chicago Fire Premier Super 20s.
“I watched so many Fire games growing up,” he said. “It was very enjoyable to be there with lots of family and high school friends out there.”
Those 45 minutes may be the most the youngster gets all season in any one game. But he knows he performed well, as do the other players and coaching staff. Smith spoke of his first-half performance against Chicago with high praise and LaBauex revealed that Mastroeni had also taken the time to sit down with him before the Chicago game and reinforce the notion the 21-year-old was easily good enough to be out there in a starting role.
Don’t be surprised, therefore, if LaBauex gets called upon in any number of positions whenever the club needs him.
“Outside back, center back, midfielder – I think my versatility helps me,” he said. “I’m just waiting for my name to be called.”