COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – His American accent says one thing, his freckled face says another.
His birthplace says one thing, his hometown says another.
Twenty-year-old Colorado Rapids defender Shane O’Neill is Irish-American, but at some point, and perhaps sometime soon, he’s going to have to choose between the land of his birth (Ireland) and where he's spent almost his entire life (the United States).
A breakout 2013 season could soon have O’Neill on the radar of both the Irish and American national teams, and the US Under-20 national team star isn’t quite sure which country he’ll choose if he gets the call.
“I think it’s just whoever kind of gives me the opportunity,” O’Neill told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “I’d want to play for both; I think I said last week I’d be excited to play for Ireland, but I’d also be really happy to play for the US, so you know, either way.”
Raised in nearby Boulder after his family moved to the United States when he was just a year old, O'Neill earned a spot in Oscar Pareja’s regular lineup earlier this season, cementing the starting center back role alongside Drew Moor during the spring. In June, O’Neill was a leading part of the US side that took part in the U-20 World Cup in Turkey, and his profile is growing after playing a key role for Pareja’s breakout squad.
O’Neill, however, is interested in playing for Ireland, and there is buzz that the interest could be mutual. He was contacted by Ireland U-21 coach Noel King last year, and he conducted sports radio interviews in Ireland just last week. Although he insists he hasn't yet been contacted yet for the Irish senior team, he's open to whatever fate comes his way.
“Obviously at this point, it’s just all up in the air,” O’Neill said. “Nothing written, nothing set in stone or anything like that, so I’m just kind of weighing my options.”
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Perhaps O’Neill offered a slight clue as to which way he might be leaning when asked whether he considered himself Irish or American.
“I definitely grew up here completely, so definitely American,” O’Neill said. “But at the same time, your Irish heritage, everything at home is pretty Irish, drinking tea all the time with my mom and all that kind of stuff. I went back to Ireland every summer for the entire time, and all my family is back there. So I definitely feel Irish-American – or American-Irish – so I don’t know what it is, but definitely a bit of both.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.