When Sebastian Anderson walked into the Rapids’ locker room on Friday, the 21-year-old defender saw something that made his pulse quicken—his name on the Starting XI board. Initial shock aside, the Homegrown took it in stride as his teammates came in from all sides offering words of support and encouragement for the impending matchup with Austin FC.

Anderson went on to play all 90 minutes of the Western Conference contest, contributing to the 1-0 shutout result for his first regular-season MLS appearance since 2019. In the past four years, the Highlands Ranch native has been through it all—an injury, multiple loans, a World Cup call-up, a head coaching change, and countless minutes perfecting his craft on the training pitch. It all led him to Saturday night and a performance he’s quick to show his appreciation for.

“It's been a long time, but I've kept my head down just waiting for an opportunity. And tonight, I got that and am just happy I could help the team,” he said after the home win.

Anderson is one of four Homegrowns rostered for the Rapids’ first team alongside midfielders Cole Bassett, Oliver Larraz and goalkeeper Abe Rodriguez. Like Anderson, Larraz and Rodriguez have both made their first-team debuts in seasons past and have spent considerable minutes with Rapids 2 since its inaugural season in 2022.

The defender was the youngest Homegrown player signing in club history, inking his contract in April of 2019. The 2019 season became a whirlwind for the 16-year-old, as he was called up to the U-17 U.S. National Team for the World Cup just months later in July.


Photo: Anderson celebrating his first MLS goal against NYCFC in 2019

Although Anderson is younger than many of his teammates, he is not inexperienced. The defender has made appearances in the USL Championship, MLS NEXT Pro, the U-15 and U-17 U.S. National Teams, and MLS.

"He was prepared for the opportunity,” said Interim Head Coach Chris Little after Saturday night’s game. “And that's all credit to the development side of our club in providing him a pathway, whether that was being on loan, whether that's playing now with our 2s. And that's a huge part of it. That's credit to everybody from Brian Crookham, Erik Bushey, all the staff for Rapids 2, and providing these experiences this year...He was ready for the opportunity, and he looked like he belonged at this level.”

The Homegrown pipeline can also be exemplified by the detail of Anderson being coached by Rapids 2 Head Coach and MLS NEXT Pro Coach of the Year Erik Bushey in his time with the Academy. Bushey has helped develop Anderson in a way that most players don’t experience in their young careers, and Anderson sees the fruits of that relationship’s labor in his performances with the first team.

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Photo: Anderson and Bushey after a Rapids 2 penalty kick shootout win over North Texas SC

“We just have a relationship--as he does with every single player [he’s coached]--that goes deeper than just Rapids,” Anderson said. “For me, he asks me what my goals are, what I think I need to be doing to be in the first team starting lineup or being subbed in and all that sort of stuff. So just having that healthy conversation with someone that has my best interest in mind is always good. Rapids 2 doing well is good because I'm able to go down there and get minutes and prepare myself ultimately for moments like this.”

In the past three years Anderson has helped guide his team to a playoff push—first with the Switchbacks in 2021 and then Rapids 2 in 2023. He appeared in 28 of the 32 games played for the Switchbacks that year, including the quarterfinal match against Orange County SC that knocked the USL Championship side out of the playoffs. The defender has played all 90 minutes in 10 of the eleven games played for Rapids 2 this year, including ten wins.

While Rapids 2 struggled to find a spot in the playoffs in its inaugural season of 2022, the tale of 2023 has been quite the opposite. The team finished the regular season with the No. 1 overall seed in MLS NEXT Pro to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs and will take to the DICK’S Sporting Goods Park pitch this Sunday for the Western Conference semifinal with San Jose Earthquakes 2.

Anderson’s contributions to each team’s playoff push speak to the club’s mission of developing players to the highest degree.

"In the past few years, the opportunity for young players has been so much more--Switchbacks, Rapids 2--there's multiple opportunities for younger guys that are still trying to develop and break into the first team ultimately. I came off injury a few years ago and was able to start 25, 26 games down with the Switchbacks and get my fitness back, get professional minutes. That's something that's a great opportunity for young guys.”