To say the Colorado Rapids' offseason has been busy is nothing short of an understatement. But perhaps no move generated as much excitement with those faithful to the Burgundy and Blue than the reintroduction of Sam Vines, a Colorado Homegrown coming back to the club that jumpstarted his professional career.
The left back reentered the Colorado scene in a whirlwind few days of flying into Denver from Belgium, participating in a media day at the stadium, then immediately taking off for Querétaro.
An unexpected hiccup of five of his and his fiancée's 15 checked bags getting lost by the airline was corrected days after he’d already embarked on the preseason journey, leaving him to pack only some of the basics and rely on team-provided gear for most of his preseason wardrobe.
Despite the hurried introductions, Vines was immediately ready to get going with the club that gave him his first professional contract.
“I think they've done well in the offseason to find different players that have been overseas, on the national team and different guys coming in,” he said. “I think they've done really well in creating a good team. I think the environment has been pretty good, too. I’m just excited to get going, to be honest. I want to get back and start the season already.”
Vines returns to Colorado after two and a half years with Royal Antwerp F.C., rejoining his boyhood club with a contract guaranteed to keep the left back at altitude though 2027.
The signing process was a quick one, as Vines discussed how his future would turn with family at the end of December and made the solid decision to return about a week before the news broke. A matter of weeks stood between a decision to move himself and his fiancée back stateside and a leap back into MLS, a league that has considerably grown in influence and popularity since he’d left in 2021.
Talks were had between him and a multitude of voices from the club: President Pádraig Smith, longtime friend and teammate Cole Bassett, and technical staff members.
A conversation with Head Coach Chris Armas solidified what Vines was already considering—that a move back to the Rapids would bring him what he desired from football again.
“At the end of the day, I want to enjoy playing football again,” he said. “So for me, it was a good time to come back. I know that they're bringing a lot of players that I know and I played with from the past, and I know that they're trying to build something that's positive.
“When you're in Europe, it's stressful—I enjoy it, but at a point you feel like you just want to play and enjoy playing while you're doing it. It's a lot of hard work. No matter what career you're in, and especially in football, it's a lot of hard work. For me, it was just a good time to come back.”
Being away from family also took a toll. Vines missed seeing his loved ones day in and day out from almost 5,000 miles away. The solution to getting back to loving the game whittled down to what he can only describe as a “feeling.”
“For a lot of people, the end goal is to get to the highest level—I still aspire to be at the highest level as well. But every day, you're away from your family, and you're training hard, and sometimes the coach makes decisions where you're not in the team. Then you start getting in different places in your head where you think, ‘Oh, man, I wish I could just play every week. I wish I could just be near my family again. I wish I could do this and this.’ I don't know how to explain it. It's just a feeling.”
But his task ahead is more than just returning to his old club—it’s returning to a team that has almost wholly transformed since his departure in 2021—including a change in leadership.
Coming into a new team isn’t a radical experience for footballers, as many will experience the ordeal multiple times during their careers. Coming back to a familiar club but mostly unfamiliar teammates and staff is a test not every player comes close to. Vines is taking it in stride, getting acclimated to the re-envisioned Rapids’ squad in the first stage of preseason in Querétaro, Mexico.
“Everything is a step forward in football, learning day by day" he said. “The coach is also learning all of us and trying to mash it all together. For me, I just want to play as many games as I can, and hopefully that gets me in a good spot for whatever the future holds going forward in my career.”
A topic that stirred discussion with fans when hearing of Vines' return was what number he'd choose to wear on his back. The left back previously donned 13 in burgundy, then changed to 21 at Antwerp.
Vines dropping the number 13 once arriving in Belgium’s top flight wasn't of his own volition. Antwerp prides itself on being the first founding club in Belgium, and its neighborhood rivals, Beerschot, takes the No. 13 spot on that founding list. Due to their rivalry, Antwerp won’t make the number 13 available on any jersey, and the 13th locker in the locker room is simply labeled “12+1”.
His decision to wear number 3 wasn’t planned, or an attempt at filling in the shoes of a certain Colorado legend, Drew Moor. The initial bid for number 14, his mother’s and fiancée's favorite number, was denied as striker Calvin Harris currently wears it, and after being given a list of available numbers, he shot it off to his family’s group chat. The consensus was number 3, the same that he's worn with the U.S. Men's National Team.
“He's just excited,” Vines said of Moor’s reaction to his old number being revived on the Colorado pitch. “He wanted me to have it. I love Drew and we have a good relationship. So I think he was excited when he saw that I took number 3.”
Vines’ goals are not only set with club, but country as well, as the U.S. international is seeking to add on to his nine caps with Gregg Berhalter’s side. He joins three teammates who’ve represented the Stars & Stripes on the senior team: goalkeeper Zack Steffen, midfielder Djordje Mihailovic, and Bassett.
The Colorado Springs native most recently earned a start in the USMNT’s friendly against Japan in September 2022. He featured in all five matches of the Concacaf Gold Cup the year prior, scoring in the opening match of group play against Haiti.
"Obviously, I want to be a part of the national team, especially with Copa America this summer,” he said. “I just want to get myself in the best situation as I can—obviously I don't need to focus on that because, for me, personally, it's just about playing the best I can and being comfortable with myself. Just play the best I can and things always come to those who wait.”
Vines will get the chance to do just that when the team officially kicks off the season against Portland on February 24