U-20 World Cup: Colorado Rapids defender Shane O'Neill hopeful for starting role vs. France
ISTANBUL – Speculation says Colorado Rapids defender Shane O'Neill could be drafted into the heart of defense for the US Under-20 national team's do-or-die World Cup match against France on Monday, which sounds just fine to him (11 a.m. ET, ESPN2 and Univision Deportes).
The 19-year-old missed out the Group A opener, a 4-1 loss to Spain, due to suspension. Though he has not worked as a centerback since Colorado's 2-2 draw with FC Dallas on June 1, O'Neill is eager to show he can shake off his backline rust to order.
"We'll shape the team today and hopefully I will get the start," O'Neill told MLSsoccer.com before Sunday training. "I haven't had a game in while, so I'm hoping to get back on the field. But it will be a tough challenge against France either way.
WATCH: O'Neill dangerous in attack for Colorado
"If I play my game, communicate with the rest of the team and just be solid, I think I can fit right in."
The versatile youngster, who scored the winner from midfield in the team's final World Cup warm-up friendly at Portugal 10 days ago, has done all the necessary homework on France's attack in case he gets the call from head coach Tab Ramos on Monday.
"They've got a lot of great individual players," he said. "They have pace and strength, so it will be a tough game all over the field. We've just got to be tough, be strong, and win our challenges in the air and one-v-one. If we defend as a team, get numbers around the ball and stay compact, I think we'll be alright.
"They like to play the forwards over the top and battle. They have big guys with pace. Spain was a really technical team. We couldn't even get into a scrapping game because they were just playing the ball. They didn't want to get into that type of game. But France wants to play [a physical game], so that fits right into our plan. Hopefully, we get stuck in and get the three points."
Another part of his preparation for the tournament happened before he ever joined up with Ramos and the boys. He has a wealth of U-20 World Cup to draw upon back in Colorado, with no less than six teammates (Edson Buddle, Drew Moor, Dillon Powers, Nathan Sturgis, Anthony Wallace and Marvell Wynne) who previously played in the tournament wearing red, white and blue.
"I've talked to them," said O'Neill. "Dillon Powers has a locker right next to mine, so we talk about it. They all definitely got me ready for the experience, but I just want to get out on the field and experience it for myself."
With all US hopes for advancement on the line against France, though, he will not be satisfied with merely taking part.
"We need points," declared O'Neill. "We just need to put everything else aside and go out to get a result, hopefully to win."
Greg Seltzer covers Americans playing abroad for MLSsoccer.com.