COMMERCE CITY -- A month after signing his first professional contract with the Colorado Rapids, recent Fairview High graduate Shane O'Neill made his professional debut on Tuesday.
Entering in the 57th minute of an international friendly against Swansea City from the English Premier League, O'Neill took over for midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, who was captain Tuesday night. The Rapids won 2-1, but O'Neill's focus was on making the most of his first professional soccer game.
"I just played my game," O'Neill said. "I played with tenacity and a bit of fire. I just played like I would normally play in an Academy game. It's no different. I was happy with the performance."
O'Neill was named co-Man of the Match, along with Rangeview High School graduate Davy Armstrong. The crowd applauded the anticipated announcement of the two local players, which O'Neill himself hadn't necessarily expected would come so soon after he signed a three-year contract with the team.
"Obviously, I was hoping so," O'Neill said. "But, I was very lucky to be blessed, especially to get this opportunity against a Premier League team. It's a dream to play against these kind of players. I was very happy that (Rapids coach Oscar Pareja) gave me the chance and he has the faith to put me on the field. Hopefully I'll be able to repay him with some good performances down the line."
The Swansea Swans surprised the soccer world with by going 12-11-15 in their first season playing in the English Premier League, arguably the world's most competitive professional league. But O'Neill, who had 19 goals his senior year at Fairview and led the Colorado Rapids U18 side with 10 goals in 15 games during the 2011-12 season, didn't appear intimidated.
O'Neill said he was nervous at the outset and it showed in his first touch. But once he settled in, he played aggressively.
"Once I got a couple touches in tonight, it was just a lot of fun," O'Neill said. "I just tried to enjoy it."
During a brief coaching session just before he entered, O'Neill said Pareja instructed him simply to play the same way he always does. For O'Neill, that often means pushing the ball forward from the midfield position.
O'Neill had a shot deflected by a defender five minutes after being announced to the crowd of 6,484.
He also came up with a steal at midfield and led a promising breakaway in the 67th minute and showed a nice open-field move on another breakaway in the final minutes. The Rapids' youngest player said knowing he would play ahead of time and having the chance to sleep on the idea helped.
"I had a feeling I was going to play tonight and I had good preparation leading up to the game," O'Neill said. "Knowing I was gonna play, I was actually a little more relaxed."
There's plenty of the game left for O'Neill to master, but Pareja said he was pleased with the 18-year-old's debut.
"I like the personality that he has," Pareja said. "He don't care. He likes to go, he goes and we are trying to teach him sometimes the game requires a certain discipline and you have to be solid in that position. You have to assume, 'Hey, this is my responsibility first. Then, I'm going with my possibilities.'"
An EPL preseason game for the Swans, Tuesday's game was the first of three exhibition games they will play against American teams. The Rapids entered the game on a five-game losing streak in MLS play.
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