PUEBLA, Mexico – Colorado Rapids midfielder Shane O’Neill has had a quick-fire rise to prominence with the US Under-20 national team.
Normally a holding midfielder, the Rapids Homegrown signing (above, left) only debuted for Tab Ramos’ team last October and, after a tough 2012 with injuries, has been handed the challenge of playing in the unfamiliar center back position here during the CONCACAF U-20 Championship.
So far, it hasn’t gone badly – his performance improved last Friday against Costa Rica after a shaky opening vs. Haiti. One goal conceded in two games is a positive bottom line.
But whatever he's done in the past matters little. Tuesday’s quarterfinal vs. Canada (6 pm ET, Fox Soccer, sportsnet.ca in Canada) is the litmus test and O’Neill is confident his improving understanding with fellow center back Caleb Stanko will be enough to keep out an attacking Canadian side he predicts will come out “absolutely guns blazing” in search of that ticket to the U-20 World Cup in Turkey.
“We’re strong in the air and we’re both tough physically,” the Irish-born defender told reporters of his partnership with Stanko after Sunday’s training session. “So if we can just keep it in front of us and keep the goal at zero, we’ll have a great chance of winning. I think it is getting better day by day.”
Perhaps partly because he has not been part of the squad for long and because injury hampered his 2012, O’Neill is grabbing the opportunity with both hands and promises to give “120 percent” in the big game.
“I was never really in the national team set-up until this last year, so it’s huge for me personally,” explained the 20-year-old.
Like his manager Ramos, O’Neill is looking beyond any rivalry with Canada and has his focus straight ahead on that World Cup appearance.
“Obviously, there’s more on the line than beating Canada,” he stated. “It’s a berth at the World Cup that we’re playing for really more than anything else.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.