MLS has witnessed a great deal of change since launching in 1996. The standard of soccer has soared. Passionate, knowledgeable supporters now cheer their teams on from inside soccer-specific stadiums, and the league is continuing to expand.
But as we look forward to a bright and healthy future, let’s not forget those who have gone before. And so, it is with this in mind, that we continue our series of ‘Where are they now?’
Feature interviews will appear on ColoradoRapids.com with some of your favorite former players. We will hear of their MLS memories, and how they’ve spent their time since leaving the Rapids.
Ross Paule was just a few weeks shy of his 29th birthday when he was forced to walk away from the sport he loved due to concussion.
That was in 2005. Other MLS players have suffered similar fates since, among them Alecko Eskandarian, Josh Gros, Bryan Namoff and Taylor Twellman.
Paule played eight seasons in MLS, beginning life at the Colorado Rapids in 1997.
“It was a wonderful time at the Rapids,” he said. “I’d come straight out of college, from Creighton University, and it was me realizing my lifelong dream of playing professional.
“Coming to the Rapids, in beautiful Colorado, was an amazing experience.”
Paule took quite a gamble in 1997, when leaving Creighton a year early to join MLS. The Rapids acquired him from the College Draft, selected 11th overall.
“It was a stressful time,” Paule recalls. “And when I look back on it, had I pondered on it longer, I don’t know whether I’d really have done it (joined MLS).
“But at that time in my career I just loved playing the game, and I felt like college was holding me back to where my goals were set. It was a big gamble, but it was the right thing to do for me.”
- INTERVIEW: Ross Paule (taken from the Rapids Podcast)
As it turned out, Paule eased into MLS life. He made his Rapids debut as a 73rd minute substitute for Paul Bravo in the second game of the 1997 season, on April 5 – a day after his 21st birthday.
Five substitute appearances would follow, before his first start, in a forgettable 5-0 thumping at DC United on June 7.
Paule spent a brief spell on loan at the Colorado Foxes in his first season, but his rookie year would culminate in an 81st minute appearance in the MLS Cup, as the Rapids were defeated 2-1 by the aforementioned team from the nation’s capital.
“I had the confidence in myself, to come in and make the team,” Paule said.
“But it was a huge wake-up call for myself, when this young boy going to preseason camp with Marcelo Balboa and Roy Wegerle, who were so successful with the national team.”
Paule enjoyed four fruitful seasons in Colorado, scoring 18 goals in 111 appearances. He sits third on the all-time list for assists (29), behind Chris Henderson (53) and Terry Cooke (34).
From the Rapids, Memphis-born Paule moved to the Metrostars, where he remained for two years, before ending his career at Columbus Crew, a career ended early in 2005 and after suffering multiple concussions in a short period over the previous two seasons.
Paule insists things would have been much different had the concussion protocol - now followed across MLS - been in place eight years ago.
“I got in trouble with my concussions, and it was the early stages with 'how do teams handle players that are getting concussions?' But I do feel like if I was given better advice to sit out and really let my brain heal before I stepped back out there, it would’ve made a big difference.”
He went on: “I have trouble today from it (concussion) and it’s terrible but, saying that, I don’t want people to feel sorry for me in any way.
“I’ve gotten used to the issues that I have with the concussion and I’m blessed to have a career that I had but I do look back and say ‘man I would’ve loved to have played for another five or six years’.
“Who knows whether I’d still be playing today.”
These days, Ross Paule keeps himself busy, and remains involved in the sport. His aim is to return to MLS, though he’s currently the executive director of Arlington Soccer Academy in Memphis, which boasts around 800 youngsters. Much of his time, though, is taken up with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (Soccer).
“I’ve just produced a soccer-themed ‘New Testament’ with very high level players (Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Lauren Cheney, Kaka), telling their story on how God has influenced their lives and helped them to get to where they are, and how they live their life on and off he field.”
Paule’s faith will have helped him through some difficult days following his forced retirement. Yet, despite how his playing career came to a premature end, the 37-year-old reflects on what – in his mind – was a memorable journey.
“I was blessed with a very long career, and it all began with the Rapids, which I’m very thankful for.”