Commerce City, Colo. – Jeff Larentowicz added another award to his mantel this week when he was named the Colorado Rapids' 2011 Most Valuable Player. The official announcement was made Wednesday at the club’s annual year-end gathering with team sponsors and partners at the Denver Marriott City Center.
"It feels great," Larentowicz told ColoradoRapids.com on Thursday. "When I came to Denver I was looking for a move to improve and become a better player. I think in the two years that I've been here I've done that – become a better player and a team leader."
In his seventh year in MLS, the Ginger Ninja, as he’s been affectionately nicknamed by fans, had arguably his best season. He lead the team with seven goals in the regular season and added another in a CONCACAF Champions League game, and played in 41 of the team’s 44 matches in all competitions.
Larentowicz shared the central midfield duties with Pablo Mastroeni, the club’s all-time leader in games played and the team’s most valuable player in three of the past four season. And while Larentowicz, who is seven years younger than Mastroeni, is hitting the prime of his career, he’s not ready to claim the top role on the club.
“Being here in Denver, I think I just reached a point in my career where I felt comfortable enough and felt I had enough trust from my teammates to try and lead,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’ve taken any reigns, because Pablo is our out-and-out leader, without question. He’s incredibly easy to play with, he’s especially open to discussion or any conversation about soccer and what we need to do on the field, and his goal is that same as mine, and that is to win games.”
Larentowicz’s strong and consistent season with the Rapids was end capped by two other career highlights. He made his U.S. National Team debut in a January friendly against Chile, and recently completed a three-week training stint with English Premier League club Bolton Wanderers, which was set up U.S. National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
“Going to a premiership club is a whole different animal,” he said of his time at Bolton. “The intensity of the coach, the intensity of the players, the professionalism and the desire to win just in training is something you don’t get all the time. Every day that I was there it was difficult – they’re competing at a level that is very high, very fast.
“The goal of the training stint was for me to go and learn, and I think that I learned a lot of things. Now hopefully I can implement them into my game and my training when I get back to start with the Rapids.”
After 11 consecutive months of games, training, and travel, Larentowicz will take the next few weeks to let his body recover. But he’s already thinking about next season with the Rapids.
“I think we’re a very good team," he said. "We have players in the right part of their careers, and I think the time for us to win is now,. The coach coming in should recognize that and I think it will be easy to do that when he sees the talent and the level of leadership we have.”