O'Neill hopes to keep getting calls from US U-20s

Eye injury could keep rookie from playing Saturday versus Houston

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Six months ago, Colorado Rapids midfielder Shane O’Neill was a high school senior, ready to head to the University of Virginia on a soccer scholarship.

But in what’s been a whirlwind 2012, the 19-year-old Homegrown player is now a rising star for the Colorado Rapids, and now, freshly returned from making his international debut at the Under-20 level for the US national team.

O’Neill (above, left) made his U-20 debut at the Marbella Cup in Spain earlier this month, playing 65 minutes in a 2-1 friendly defeat to Canada. An eye injury prevented him from playing in the final two games of the tournament, but in the meantime, the Ireland-born, Colorado-raised youngster still managed to receive valuable experience at the international stage.

“I got confidence to see that I can play at that level,” O’Neill told MLSsoccer.com. “Overall, it was a really good trip for me.”

The holding midfielder only signed his first professional contract in June, but right away the Boulder, Colo., native found himself competing for a spot on the field. In July, O’Neill debuted for the Rapids in a 2-1 friendly win over English Premier League side Swansea City, and in September, he made his first MLS appearance in a 3-0 win over Portland. And on Oct. 10, O’Neill started the Marbella Cup opener for the US, the icing on the cake in what’s been a big year for the youngster.

“It has been a good year for him,” Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja said. “[He’s] experienced a year with the professional team, was called to the national camp, made his debut, and hopefully we can see some action from him [in the Rapids’ season finale against Houston on Saturday].”

The lone potential holdup for O’Neill is an eye injury that he suffered in southern Spain which kept him out of the final two games of the tournament.

“I want to be 100 percent, to make sure there’s no lingering problems,” O’Neill said. “We’ve got a U-20 camp in December. It sounded pretty good [that I’d get an invitation to attend]. Hopefully, I can just stay in that through qualifying and get back to 100 percent.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.