In looking back at 2013, we polled the ColoradoRapids.com staff and asked them to pick their top five Colorado soccer moments of the year. #5 Awards & Recognition
One of the highlights of the year cannot be identified by a single date on the calendar, but rather by a collection of moments that brought the Rapids positive attention around MLS and the larger soccer community. The team's performances and results had others looking our way, but so did the standout year from a number of individuals.
Through the haze of injuries to key players, one thing was certain from the start of the season: our rookies were special.
Dillon Powers quickly settled into his role as an attacking midfielder and became a fixture in a constantly shuffling starting XI. Deshorn Brown dazzled spectators and confounded defenders with his speed and strength on the wing and finished 2013 leading all rookies and the Colorado Rapids with ten goals scored.
ColoradoRapids.com knew from the start that the Rookie of the Year award was a two man race and MLSSoccer.com agreed. When the votes were in, it was clear that the League agreed. Dillon Powers was named Rookie of the Year and Deshorn Brown was second in voting.
Defender Shane O'Neill caught the eye of U.S. Soccer back in 2012 but 2013 saw him become a fixture on the Under-20 team. During his U-20s stint, O'Neill started all five matches in the 2012 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, where the United States finished second and qualified for the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup. O'Neill scored his first international goal against Portugal in a tune-up match before the World Cup. At the U-20 World Cup, O’Neill started two of the team’s three group stage games, and scored the U.S.’s only goal in their final match of the tournament against Ghana on June 27. U.S. Soccer named Shane O'Neill a finalist for its Young Male Athlete of the Year Award, capping off a great 2013 for the Rapids' young defender.
The start of the season was marred by injuries and inconsistency but no moment was perhaps as fear-inducing as when Matt Pickens went down with a broken arm at Real Salt Lake. Clint Irwin quickly stepped into net, made three strong saves in his MLS debut, claimed the starting spot, and never looked back. Irwin finished the season with ten clean sheets, the most of any Rapids goalkeeper since Joe Cannon in 2004. Irwin's name was in the conversations about Newcomer of the Year, where he finished 4th. But he did take home the Rapids Fan Favorite and the Centennial 38 Player of the Year Award. Not bad for an unknown keeper who made his way to MLS by taking the road less traveled.
Joining those guys left back Chris Klute, who in his first year locked down the position. By the end of the year Klute had media and fans recognizing him as the best left back in MLS, and touting the young defender to be considered for the US National Team.
The Rapids also made a splash late this season, signing the team's first Designated Player. Gaby Torres burst onto the international soccer scene with a standout performance at the CONCACF Gold Cup tournament. Torres put the exclamation point on the Rapids' rout of Seattle on October by scoring his first MLS goal, and went on to do what he was brought here to do, which is help the Rapids win.
Two top rookies, a national team regular, ten clean sheets from a surprisingly stellar keeper and one designated player. How does all of that add up to a club best 51 points and a return to the MLS Cup Playoffs? Oscar Pareja. The Rapids coach entered his second season with high hopes. Hopes which could have been dashed by a relentless injury bug. But Pareja adopted a "next man up" mentality that encouraged his team to take advantage of the opportunities that were presented to them. And boy did they capitalize. We can question whether Powers, Brown, Irwin, Klute and O'Neill have the seasons they had if it not for their intrepid head coach. Pareja's effort did not go unnoticed. He was in the running for Coach of the Year and finished fourth in voting.
Individual awards and honors don't make or break a season. Collectively, they prove that good things happened in Colorado in 2013. And give us even more to look forward to in 2014.