Commerce City, Colo. - It's a year of new beginnings for Hunter Freeman. In late December, his wife gave birth to their first child, daughter Brynley, just weeks after the Colorado Rapids had selected the versatile defender from the Houston Dynamo in the MLS Re-Entry Draft. On Friday, the Rapids announced that Freeman has been signed, making the team’s former first round draft pick the first off-season acquisition.
“Ending up with the organization where it all started is kind of surreal and nice at the same time," Freeman told ColoradoRapids.com by phone from his home in Houston. "I was traded away in the preseason when the stadium was opened, so I never had a chance to call Dick’s Sporting Goods Park my home field. It’ll be nice to get back and play in that stadium that I saw built from nothing to what it is now."
Freeman was Colorado’s first pick in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft and spent two years with the club before being traded to New York prior to the 2007 season. Other than mainstay Pablo Mastroeni, and Omar Cummings and Kosuke Kimura, who were in their first preseason that year, Freeman returns to a vastly different team and as a different player.
"Obviously I had no experience when I came there and this will be my 7th year," Freeman said. "I’ve played with a bunch of teams and different types of coaches. I think I’m more composed, better with the ball, better in my decision making, better in my concentration throughout 90 minutes – all those things you experience by playing a lot of games.”
After his first stint with the Rapids, in which he appeared in 47 matches, he played with the Red Bulls, Toronto FC, and two years at IK Start in Norway before returning to MLS and the Houston Dynamo in 2011. With the Dynamo, he started 22 of the clubs 34 matches on their way to the MLS Cup final, where they lost 1-0 to the LA Galaxy in November. He then entered the MLS Re-Entry Draft and was selected by the Rapids in the second stage on December 5.
"Coming back to Denver is exciting for me, but to be honest, I knew there was some interest from teams but I hadn’t heard of the Rapids being one of them," he said. "So when I was picked up I was surprised but it was a good thing.
“I said to my wife that if I’d have to move from my hometown to a different place, Denver would be one of them because my first two years there were a great experience, I love the city, obviously the new stadium and facilities are great, and I think things have changed for the better, too."
Freeman says there are no hard feelings for moving on from Houston.
“I always take a positive side to things, and everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I’m thankful to Dom (Kinnear, Dynamo head coach) and Houston because I was able to come back and be close to my family during a time when I needed to be. And I got to play a lot of games here.”
Growing up in Tyler, Texas, Freeman played both against and with Rapids defender and Dallas native Drew Moor. He also spent some time training with Dallas as a youth, where he was first introduced to his new coach, Oscar Pareja, who was then a star midfielder for the Dallas club.
"He used to boss me around and kick me around when I was 15 or so, so there’s little bit of familiar," Freeman joked of Pareja. "Just knowing him as the player that he was, he’s going to demand a lot out of the squad. He always worked hard, had a good work rate, he was also a very technical player, so those are a few things that I would expect him to bring to his coaching philosophy."
Having played for various teams and coaches, Freeman feels comfortable coming on to a new team with a new coach.
“Whenever there is a new coach, everybody’s slate is kind of wiped to zero," he said. "Obviously (Pareja) is going to take into account what players have done in the past and where they’ve played, but he also comes in with his own ideas and philosophies and style of play. So where one player may have fit in to the previous coach, maybe they don’t fit in to the style that the new coach plays. Maybe you find yourself playing a different position. The most important thing is to stay professional and to give 100 percent."
Now a savvy veteran with an MLS Cup game under his belt, Freeman is excited to join a talented Colorado side.
"When I look at the team that’s there, there are still a lot of good players that are left over from the team that Colorado won the Cup with a couple of years ago. I think there’s a very good core there, so I think it’s a good situation.”
Freeman will meet his new teammates when they report for the start of preseason in late January.