Graduating Under-18 Academy Team sets standard for youth players to come

Core of U-18s took leap of faith in joining Academy program, created benchmark of excellence

At a home match earlier this month, members of the graduating class of the Colorado Rapids Under-18 Development Academy team watched the first-team Rapids take on D.C. United from a private suite at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. It was a parting gift given to them by the club to honor their achievements over the past five years.

The core of the 2012-2013 U-18 Team was a group who had originally come to the Colorado Rapids when the club first created its Academy back in 2007. It was a leap of faith to join a new youth organization, but that decision that the boys made created a team that has set the standard for Rapids youth teams for years to come.

“It wasn't an easy decision for some of them,” said Brian Crookham, the Rapids Senior Director of Youth Development and Head Coach of the Rapids U-18’s. “No one really knew what to expect. It all sounded good in theory, but there was no history to back it up.”

In their five years at the Rapids, members of this team had plenty of on-field achievements, including last year’s run to finishing 6th in the Development Academy (out of more than 75 teams), a mark topped by the Rapids U-16’s third place finish this year. They traveled for tournaments both domestic and international, and piled up impressive results.

Along with their superb play on the field, the young Rapids team showed a maturity and poise beyond their years.

“The group has always been focused on the important things,” said Crookham. “They created a standard of excellence within the Academy that has become our culture.”

The competitive environment fostered by the team saw players like Shane O’Neill and Dillon Serna earn professional contracts with the first team, with several others playing in Reserve Team matches and even more joining the first team in practices. Fourteen of these players will be headed off to play college soccer this fall.

“I think most of them will look at it to this point and say that the sacrifices they made and the work they put in was worth it,” Crookham said. “And the journey continues for all of them. This is not the end of the path.”

On Thursday, June 27, the U-18s played its final match of the 2012-13 Development Academy season, falling by a 1-0 score to FC Bolts Celtic in Dallas as part of the year-end Showcase event. While the result was disappointing, the match represented a triumphant achievement for many of the players on the team.

The Rapids Academy and all the players that join the club in the future will owe this group, now leaving the Youth ranks, for their hard work, tenacity, and leadership.