COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Heading into last offseason, Colorado Rapids defender Shane O’Neill, after playing in the midfield in 2012 and as a center back in 2013, said he was hoping to settle into a more consistent position in 2014.
Well, there’s always next year.
The 20-year-old up-and-comer is set to make another positional switch this season, this time to right back after spending most of the preseason swapping places with veteran Marvell Wynne, who played right back last year but is transitioning back to center back. Now, the Homegrown star O’Neill is busy adjusting to yet another new role, his third position in just 18 months.
“It’s going to be an adjustment for sure,” O’Neill told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday, prior to flying out for the Rapids’ season opener against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday afternoon (4 pm ET, Univision Deportes). “I’m trying to be positive about it. I’m trying to learn as much as I can because potentially in the future it could be a spot where I cover. I’m trying to make the most of it for right now and see what happens.”
O’Neill was called up by Jurgen Klinsmann in January for his first senior national team camp, though he departed early as he battled a tight hamstring that carried over into much of the preseason. But the move comes somewhat as a surprise after O’Neill’s impressive first full season in MLS, where he got a crack at the starting center back role after a string of injuries and never let go, racking up 24 starts in 2013 and earning high praise from coaches and teammates for his play.
The right back switch, however, is believed to be more of a temporary arrangement as the team seeks a longer-term solution at the position. But in the meantime, Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni believes O’Neill’s desire to push forward can help add an extra offensive punch out of the back.
- Get more Colorado Rapids news at ColoradoRapids.com
“He brings a dynamic presence to the game,” Mastroeni said of O’Neill on Wednesday. “He’s good in the tackle, he’s good going forward, so I think it’s a position that suits him well along with a few positions on the field that he can play. It’s something that we’ve been looking at and something that we’re going to explore moving forward.”
As for O’Neill, he’ll be thrown into the fire quickly as he’ll be tasked with helping keep Thierry Henry in check on Saturday.
“Obviously I didn’t expect to be put at right back but I’m just going to try to do my best at this spot and then go from there,” said O’Neill, who briefly played right back during the end of last season but has otherwise not played the position. “Now it’s a whole new kind of world defensively knowing when to step, knowing when to tuck in.
"It’s just a completely different concept, so I think that’s the change for me is knowing the little details on the field.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.