Shane O'Neill is taking in the game from an almost entirely new perspective. And right now, the Fairview alumnus is all too happy to scrutinize any view of the soccer field if it leads to greater opportunities.
It has been a busy offseason for the Knights' former two-sport standout as he prepares for his first full professional season with the Colorado Rapids.
This past week, O'Neill reveled in the honor of training with the U.S. U20 national team in Mexico. The club played a pair of closed-door friendlies against Panama on Saturday and again on Monday, as the U20 national team coaching staff evaluates the available talent ahead of next month's first qualifying matches for this summer's U20 World Cup.
Throughout the week, O'Neill reported that he trained mostly at the center back defensive slot, a departure for the holding midfield position he manned at Fairview and throughout his formative seasons with the Rapids Academy.
It isn't an entirely new situation for O'Neill. He played center back while winning the MVP award at a high school All-America game in Alabama in December of 2011, a performance that began sending an avalanche of attention O'Neill's way that culminated with him signing with the Rapids last summer shortly after graduating from Fairview.
While midfield remains the focus of O'Neill's future with the Rapids, it hasn't been lost on him what the advantage of mastering another position might mean for his chances of contributing regularly during the 2013 Major League Soccer slate.
"It's good to have that kind of versatility," O'Neill reported during a phone interview late last week while taking a break from training in Mexico. "Anywhere I can help on the field for the Rapids is fine with me. I started playing center back a little more last year in practice with the Rapids, maybe when other center backs got injured. I'm learning more and I'm really starting to enjoy it."
Since recovering from a fractured orbital bone he suffered in September, O'Neill has spent his days training at the Rapids' facilities at Dick's Sporting Goods Park while occasionally taking in the games of his former teammates from Fairview's boys basketball squad.
O'Neill was happy to check in with his former team while he could, as the next few months could prove to be a whirlwind for the Rapids' homegrown prospect. After returning from Mexico this week, O'Neill immediately will rejoin the Rapids as the club commences preseason training.
O'Neill will be forced to wait a few weeks until before learning if he made the cut for the U20 World Cup qualifiers, but he reports no stress over the unknown. Given the Rapids have made a handful of transactions recently to remold the roster with a more youthful bent -- including the trading of one of the players ahead of O'Neill on the Rapids' depth chart at midfielder, Jeff Larentowicz -- O'Neill is ready to embrace whatever opportunity is presented.
If that means he's just battling for a spot in the Rapids' rotation, great. If O'Neill receives a chance to compete on the national stage, all the better.
"Obviously there have been a lot of changes, but I'm excited about it," O'Neill said. "This trip, or any of the trips I might have in the future, I'm just trying to enjoy them as much as possible. I'm going into the preseason confident and it's going to be nice being part of a younger atmosphere."
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