Cole Bassett stood to his feet and clapped his hands.

A flurry of snow and the cold gusts of a Colorado winter had prevented most of a potential sell-out crowd from coming to the University of Denver Soccer Stadium for the team’s first playoff game, but it didn’t stop Cole. Nothing would.

As the PA announcer broadcasted the starting lineup for the home team, there was a name he waited for, anticipated.

“Midfielder from Littleton, Colorado. Sam Bassett.”

A roar of cheers followed — Cole the loudest.

Sam, his brother, played soccer for the University of Denver after playing in the Rapids academy system. Cole had committed to play for the Pioneers years earlier, long before he realized his dream of being a professional soccer player with the Rapids — a career that reached the European soccer scene.

In Jan. 2021, the then-20-year-old midfielder — an essential player in the Rapids’ Western Conference-winning season — was loaned from the club to famed Dutch side Feyenoord before going on loan again to a smaller Dutch club, Fortuna Sittard.

However, the turbulence of his dream, and the uncertainty of his future, temporarily dimmed the excitement of the pinnacles he reached. His mental bandwidth, once reserved for the game of soccer, now became inundated with the politics and business behind the sport.

Now, just days removed from his spell in Europe, he was back in Denver —  a quick trip, he thought — to support his brother, a sophomore making his first postseason start.

As brothers, they were always there for each other. Even with the eight-hour time difference when he was in Europe, Cole would livestream Sam’s games when he could. And when either brother was dealing with issues adjusting to their soccer troubles, a phone call to the other shortly followed.

“Obviously, he could call my parents,” Sam said. “But they can't relate to the situation as easily because they didn't play soccer at this level. We've had hard times. So, I think it's easy to connect to one another.”

On that night in Denver, the Pioneers would go on to beat San Diego State by a single goal in the overtime period.

Cole got up from the bleachers. In his mind, he was already thinking about how he would catch Sam’s next game  — whether he would fly to Durham, N.C., or not.

He didn’t like being in Sittard. It was closing in on Thanksgiving and he had 10 days before he had to get back, but being around his family during the holidays helped him find clarity.

The next week, Cole called Fortuna Sittard to let them know that he wasn’t coming back.

And then he waited, not sure if he was heading back to Feyenoord or if he was staying home and rejoining the Rapids.

When Cole Bassett suffered a hamstring injury midway through a match against Charlotte FC this March, he grimaced as he limped off the pitch. Part of it was the pain. Most of it was pain. But he had already missed the last few weeks due to injury, a frustrating return to Colorado after his European stint. Now a small piece of him knew he’d have to miss more time away from the game, and that killed him.

Cole lives for soccer. Being without it pains him.

Despite being injured and unable to train, he still showed up to the locker room that week to be around the team. Sitting under a name plate that reassured his place in the room, a teammate approached him and inquired about his health.

“Doctor said I’d be out for a few weeks,” he replied stoically.

“Ooo, Cole’s going to explode,” a different teammate teased.

Cole and his teammates laughed. Joke or not, that was the way Cole had viewed soccer his entire life and his teammates knew it. If he couldn’t play for a week, he wouldn’t feel like himself. If he couldn’t play for a few weeks, he felt like exploding.

However, for his ambitions, that work ethic and attitude is a must.

On Sept. 8, 2018, Cole made his debut for the Rapids, coming off the bench for 19 minutes. At the time, he was the youngest player in club history to make his senior team debut, at 17 years and 47 days old.

That was a moment to celebrate. But for Cole, there was always more. Another pinnacle to reach. Another milestone to surpass.

 “I was excited, but it took a month longer than I expected,” he said, smiling. “I had a pretty good debut, although we lost. I think my Academy coach texted me after the game and sent me my stats, and just how I looked on the field. I was happy with (my debut). But it came a little later than I thought.”

He made five more appearances in the regular season that year, scoring one goal. It wasn’t the perfect start, but it was one he could build on.

By the end of 2021, Cole had finished two back-to-back seasons with a prominent role and the stats to back it. The type of performances he was putting out made European clubs notice.

On January 20, 2022, the call came. Cole was being loaned to Feyenoord.


Photo: Cole and Sam Bassett

Sam felt his phone vibrate after his class ended.

To most, it would’ve signaled just another notification, but to Sam, given the timing of it, he knew exactly what it meant. Cole was calling from Europe.

Both brothers had restrictive schedules. Sam had training at 9 a.m. Right after, he would go to class. By the time he finished with class and lunch, Cole was getting ready for bed. Because of the time difference, there wasn’t much time to talk, but the two of them always made it work. Sometimes it involved early mornings or late nights for one of them just to find the time to talk.

“Yeah, I would say (we talked) like, two or three, maybe four times a week,” Sam said. “The time difference definitely impacted a lot of it. So, on the days where I wouldn't have class right at 12 o'clock, I would try and hop on a call with him.”

When they couldn’t talk, they would send texts with updates about their day.

Sam knew Cole was having a hard time in Europe. Cole kept him up to date on his struggle for minutes at Feyenoord and Fortuna Sittard — a situation Sam knew all too well.

He started every match of his sophomore year. Even though he’d find himself on the bench having been subbed off in every match, it was a stark difference from his freshman year when he struggled to find the field at all.

That had come as a shock to him. He was a top recruit coming into his freshman year. He had trained his entire life with his brother and went through the same academy.

 “I came in thinking I was going to play after training with the first team with Rapids. I thought I was playing at a high enough level to come to college and play,” Sam said. “And the college game is just so different. I wasn't at that level.”

Cole was in town when Sam was seeing very limited minutes at the University of Denver.

Cole had gone through a similar experience with the Rapids. Under interim coach Conor Casey in the 2019 season, Cole was a mainstay in the lineup. When Rapids Head Coach Robin Fraser was formally hired, Cole’s spot in the lineup fluctuated more than he had anticipated.

“When Robin first got here, I think I scored in my first two games that I played for him,” Cole said. “And I just got benched the rest of the year, and then at the start of the next season, I barely played at all. I wasn't even coming off the bench. So, I went through the same experience that (Sam) did.”

Photo: Sam Bassett appearing for the University of Denver.

Bassett_Sam_20220825_Gonzaga_JS (12)
Sam Bassett appearing for the University of Denver men's team.

Cole told Sam to attack the situation the same way he did. Put your head down. Focus on improving. Work so hard that you become undeniable.

“I just told him, ‘Sometimes you just gotta show it and make it so obvious that the coach has nothing to do but pick you,’” Cole said. “And I think he just continued to work. And then he showed it this last year that he was one of the best players, if not the best on the team.”

Sam got out of the situation with the help of his brother’s advice. That’s why when his phone rang at a familiar afternoon time, he never failed to pick up.

“I’m not going to college,” Cole recalled telling his parents.

Those are words most parents would dread to hear, especially from their child at 14 years old. But upon asking him why, he explained, “I’m going to Europe.”

Before he could even legally drive, Cole knew he not only wanted to play soccer professionally, but he wanted to do it in Europe.

It took him some time to decide initially. It wasn’t until a year before that announcement that he quit baseball, and until that point, he had teetered between wanting to play soccer or baseball professionally.

And when he turned 12, he knew he wanted to commit to soccer. But once he made his mind about going overseas, he had to figure out how on his own.

“(My parents) didn't play soccer,” Cole said. “They knew nothing really about it. They didn't know how to help me with that. But I saw Christian Pulisic move over there when he was 16. And I was like, I gotta be over there.”

To make it happen, he called random agents or anyone he thought could help. Most didn’t answer. For many, it was hard to take a 14-year-old seriously.

Around that time, colleges started recruiting him.

“I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to be a professional,” Cole said. “So once the opportunity came, I had to take it and forego school.”

After making his Rapids debut in 2018 and the ensuing seasons that led to interest from European clubs, Cole was selected for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s domestic training camp held in early January of 2022.

“I kind of knew after the season that I had,” Cole said. “Just when you make your debut for your national team, stuff starts to pick up.”

The January camp was held in Phoenix, a flight a little under two hours from Denver.

Cole stood in line to get coffee at the airport, conversing with his Rapids teammate at the time, Kellyn Acosta. They’d both been chosen for the camp so they decided to fly together.

Before they could even place their order, Cole’s phone rang.

It was his agent, calling about a loan to Feyenoord.

“Hey, I think they're gonna make a bid here soon,” his agent told him. “So, you're probably only going to go to camp for a couple of days, and then you're gonna have to come back and pack and leave.”

Earlier in the month, his agent had called him to update him on the potential interests from two different Dutch clubs.

“It turned into where there were two clubs basically, that if one bought one player then the other team was gonna get me,” Cole said. “And then if that team didn't buy that player, then that team was gonna get me.”

When he got the call to be ready, a sense of excitement brewed in Cole. He was exhausted after a long MLS season. Maybe it was the coffee, but the news itself was like a shot of espresso. Even if he was just going to camp for a few days, he was ready to give it his all to make a lasting impression on then-USMNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter.

But life had other plans. Cole found himself caught in the crossfire of a resurgence of COVID-19. Before his cleats even touched the pitch at the USMNT camp, he was mandated to a five-day quarantine period.

By the time he was allowed to return to training — his first with the team — he received another call from his agent.


“You gotta fly back to Colorado, pack your stuff and go,” his agent said.

Cole was going to Feyenoord.

Cracking the Feyenoord lineup wasn't easy. Cole had to fight to earn every minute he received.

“I thought I was doing well in preseason there,” Cole said. “I think I scored three goals in five games, so I was the leading goal scorer for the whole team in preseason, and I thought I deserved a spot in the starting squad, but the coach didn't think I was quite ready enough.”

He thought he had done all he could to earn playing time. Cole wanted a place at the club. He loved the city and the structure of play. Over six to seven months, he got to travel to 10 different countries to play, and he loved it. Feyenoord shared his strong desire to win and had an established culture of putting in the work to get there. It was the same mentality Cole had adopted to get to this stage. But he just wasn’t getting the minutes.

Meantime, once summer began in the Netherlands, Fortuna Sittard Head Coach Sjors Ultee made his first call to Cole. Cole declined.

“I was kind of adamant I wanted to stay at Feyenoord,” Cole said.

He was firm on his decision. But Ultee kept calling for a month. After some thought, Cole relented.

“(Feyenoord coach Arne Slot) said if you did want to get minutes as a starter, you could go,” Cole said. “And the coach of Fortuna was pushing to bring me in, so I thought whenever you have somebody that really likes you and wants you, follow that.

Cole officially joined Fortuna Sittard on loan on Aug. 13, 2022. Nine days later, Ultee, the coach who'd seemed so keen on having him there, was fired.

“It's just a different world over there. It's a business, and it's more ruthless, and it's hard to describe if you don't experience it, but it was pretty crazy,” Cole said. “He brought me in and then he was fired within (a few days). So, after that, we didn't have a coach for about six months.”

Not only was the man who wanted Cole there gone, but his place in the lineup was in jeopardy too, after Fortuna’s captain requested a position change that overlapped with Cole’s role. He felt out of place. His mentality didn’t resonate in the locker room. This wasn’t what he had pictured when he came to Europe to chase his dream.

“It was definitely tough,” Cole said. “The second city was a place that I don't think many people would want to live in if you had to say where do you want to live in the world. The actual training atmosphere and everything about the club where I was at wasn't too great either.”

For him, the answer to his stress and the uncertainty of his situation was to put his head down and go to work. He didn’t have much to do outside of soccer. After his move to Sittard, that became even more the case.

“You can kind of train harder, you can stay longer at the training ground because you have nothing to come back to,” Cole said. “It was just tough mentally. Being in a place so far away from your family, not having anyone there to go home to after training.”

Cole sat in his parents’ car, ready to call it a day and fall asleep as they drove him home from the Denver Airport. The familiar seating and the route he knew all too well offered a sense of security.

The day before, Cole played against FC Groningen, recording a season-high 58 minutes. On the surface, his tenure with Sittard was turning. He was slowly starting to get more usage. But being home made Cole realize it wasn’t the place for him.

Cole wanted to be back in Europe at some point — maybe in the right situation at the right time. He was all the wiser after his experience with Fortuna and he had unfinished business at Feyenoord.

As he arrived back to his parents’ house and slumped in bed, the surroundings of a familiar city gave him peace and a soundless sleep. He wasn’t sure if he was returning to Feyenoord or if the Rapids would want him to stay in Denver, but for now, he was home with his family — and that was more than okay.