MLS has witnessed a great deal of change since launching in 1996, and as we look forward to a bright and healthy future, let’s not forget those who have gone before. With this in mind, we present our ‘Where are they now?’ series, featuring some of your favorite former players talking about their MLS memories, and how they’ve spent their time since leaving the Rapids.
When Shaun Bartlett took to the field for the Colorado Rapids on April 13, 1996, he was riding the crest of a continental wave, having been part of the South Africa side which lifted the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil just two months earlier.
Bartlett was a man seeking new adventure, from a country which was going through massive transition in the post-apartheid era. Indeed, the late Nelson Mandela was on hand to present South Africa’s successful soccer side with the Cup of Nations in early February of that year.
“It was a great occasion in my career,” Bartlett said. “Having left South Africa for the first time and gone to a brand new league, I knew it was always going to be a challenge.
“Being part of that new era in the US was great, and my time at the Colorado Rapids was absolutely magnificent.”
- INTERVIEW: Shaun Bartlett (taken from the Rapids Podcast)
Of the starting XI from 1996, eight remain involved in the game in some capacity – Dusty Hudock, Troy Edwards, Denis Hamlett, Ian Butterworth, Chris Henderson, Steve Trittschuh, Dominic Kinnear and Shaun Bartlett. The other three – Jean Harbor, Matt Kmosko and Scott Benedetti – have since moved on to careers outside of soccer.
“We had a pretty decent squad,” the South African added. “Unfortunately, our first season didn’t go as probably planned or expected, but overall the team played really well and I think I formed quite a formidable partnership with Jean Harbor.”
Harbor is now a contamination engineer with NASA. Bartlett is now assistant coach with South African club side Golden Arrows, based in Durban. He joined them last year after his 17-year playing career came to an end in 2009. It was a career which began with his hometown club, Cape Town Spurs, in 1992 and took him to three continents.
“I ended up going to MLS, partly due to the success of that 1996 national team, winning the Africa Cup of Nations,” Bartlett explained. “There were a few people from MLS in the stadium watching me, and that eventually kick-started my international club career.”
Bartlett spent a season-and-a-half with the Rapids, featuring in 36 games while scoring nine goals. His maiden goal came in the second game of the inaugural season, the opening home game and a 3-1 win over Dallas on April 21.
“The biggest challenge for me was the mile high altitude in Denver,” Bartlett admitted. “Training-wise, it took me a bit of time to adapt, but once I got that under my belt everything for me just sort of took off.
“I remember vividly what happened in the Dallas game, but more than anything else I think it was more relief (to get my first goal). As a foreign player, you need to score goals, you need to perform, and that’s definitely what I had to do from the beginning.”
The 41-year-old was traded to the Metrostars midway through the 1997 season, where he played 13 games before wrapping up his MLS experience at the end of the campaign.
After a brief return to Cape Town Spurs, on loan, Bartlett then spent eight years in Europe. This included time in Switzerland at FC Zurich and then a lengthy spell with English club Charlton Athletic, during which one of his strikes was voted Premier League Goal of the Season for 2000-01.
Having been released by Charlton at the end of the 2006 season, Bartlett returned to South Africa, where he played for Kaizer Chiefs and Bloemfontein Celtic, before hanging up his boots for a life in coaching.
As well as a colorful club career, the man from the Rainbow Nation featured 74 times for South Africa, scoring 28 goals. Aside from the winners’ medal from the 1996 Cup of Nations, Bartlett was also a member of the squad for the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France.
Shaun Bartlett is a member of an elite band of former Rapids players. Few remain household names, but all were in at the very beginning … and that makes them very special indeed.