Kevin Harbottle shines for reserves, but is it enough to earn a starting nod?

Coming off a Reserve League hat trick, Chilean hopes to get back on first team

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Up until the 75th minute of the Colorado Rapids’ Reserve League match in Harrisburg last weekend, Kevin Harbottle had become somewhat of a forgotten man.

One of the Rapids’ big pickups of the offseason who started the first four games this season, the 23-year-old winger hasn’t played in a regular-season match since hurting his knee in late March, despite having recovered from the injury nearly a month ago. He’s been an unused sub for two of Colorado’s last three games, but he failed to even make the bench in a May 25 win over Chivas USA.

But Harbottle took a big step forward with a magical quarter-hour last Saturday to put himself firmly back in the picture. He had a hat trick – including a booming shot from outside the penalty box to start the scoring in the 75th minute – in Colorado’s 3-1 win over USL PRO side Harrisburg.

Of course it was only in a Reserve League match, but for Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja, it could have been the spark he was looking for from the skillful yet undersized winger.

“It’s a good step forward for him,” Pareja said. “The adjustment to the league and everything, it sometimes takes time.”

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It’s been a disappointing start to Harbottle’s time in the United States after signing from his native Chile in January. After failing to make a major impact in his four starts, he came down with a left knee sprain in March, and he hasn’t seen a minute in league play since.

But last weekend offered a glimpse into what the Chilean can offer. On his first goal in Harrisburg, he drilled a shot top corner, followed by finishing a rebound off the line 10 minutes later. He topped off the hat trick in the 89th minute by breaking free behind the defense on an over-the-top ball.

“I’d obviously like to be playing in the first team, but I think little by little I’m starting to do what the coach wants,” he told MLSsoccer.com this week. “I’m waiting to play.”

Harbottle’s big game adds competition to a spot already overflowing with solid candidates. In the Rapids’ preferred of late 4-2-3-1, Harbottle is battling with Atiba Harris, Deshorn Brown, Danny Mwanga, Jaime Castrillón and Martín Rivero for minutes in one of the three spots underneath the lone striker.

But energized by a big weekend and improved health, Harbottle could finally be ready to emerge out of the shadows and re-establish himself in the starting 11 after a lengthy absence.

“I want to be there, playing in the first team,” he said. “Not in the reserves.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.