Alumni corner: Shane O’Neill mulls 2018 World Cup potential

Jeremy Papasso / Daily Camera
The Rapids’ Shane O’Neill scored the first goal of his professional career on May 24

COMMERCE CITY — As millions of Americans sleep off emotional hangovers from the 2014 World Cup hysterics that swept across the nation this summer, the rest of the world is beginning to hopefully await the next World Cup four years down the road.

A few true American soccer fans might be looking forward to the next World Cup already. Then there are professional soccer players like Boulder native Shane O’Neill who probably need to start thinking about it whether he wants to or not.

Already a three-year veteran of Major League Soccer with the Colorado Rapids, O’Neill has a shot to make the U.S. team.

“As of now, I’m just focused on playing here with the Rapids,” O’Neill said. “But if the U.S. wants to call me up, obviously I’m going to take those call-ups. That’s been huge goal for me for a long time and it would be a great accomplishment to play for them. That would be great if something like that happened in the future. A chance to play in Russia in 2018 is a big goal for all of us young guys.”

The Fairview High School graduate played in 26 games for the Rapids in 2013, missing select games to while playing as a central defender for the U.S. U-20 National Team. He was also invited to the U.S. Men’s National Team camp in January of 2013.

With a wealth of international experience for player who won’t be 21 years old for another two months, O’Neill has earned a starting role as a central defender this season despite being signed out of high school as a midfielder.

Given his Irish berth, and his dual citizenship, O’Neill could also potentially play for Ireland in 2018 or any year after.

“They’ve never asked me to play for them, so I don’t think there’s much of a decision to be made, not at this point,” O’Neill said.

While he’s been focusing on helping his current team win, O’Neill scored the first goal of his professional career with the Rapids during a 4-1 win over the Montreal Impact on May 24.

O’Neill recently served a one-game suspension for a late challenge on Union midfielder Danny Cruz in the 11th minute of a 3-3 draw in Philadelphia on July 11. But since he’s battling a handful of nagging injuries, including a minor knee injury, it may be a week or so before the 20-year-old local star is back on the field.

“It’s been a good season but it’s also had its ups and downs,” O’Neil said. “It’s a new beginning kind of thing right now with Pablo and we’re all trying to prove ourselves kind of again. The season has been pretty fun and I’ve done pretty well. I got my first goal but I obviously have things to improve on, particularly the consistency aspect of my game.”

This is former Rapids start Pablo Mastreoni, who O’Neill shared a roster with briefly when he first arrived before the Rapids’ all-time leader in most games played (225), games started (217) and minutes played (18,669), and USA Men’s National Team veteran retired in December of last year. Named the Rapids next head coach in March, Mastroeni has brought a hands-on coaching approach to his former team, which has a 7-6-6 record and 27 points through 19 games.

Mastroeni doesn’t doubt O’Neill’s World Cup potential and believes the Boulder-born youngster is capable of going as far as the chip on his shoulder will take him.

“I think he’s one of those players that people are always surprised at when he goes to the next level,” Mastroeni said. “When he came here, people thought, ‘I don’t know. He’s homegrown, he’s young and you’re putting him in a position where you’ve got to make plays.’ He’s been able to do that and then you see him go with the youth national team and do the same thing. Shane does well when people doubt that he can achieve it.”

But the World Cup is a long way off still. More immediately, O’Neill has been selected to play in the Homegrown Game on Aug. 6, a showcase game that preceded the MLS All-Star Game on Aug. 8.

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