Over 5,000 miles away, in the quiet coastal town of San Pedro del Pinatar, Spain, Rapids' Homegrown Cole Bassett is dialed in, thinking about how he can punch his ticket to the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. After being named to the 20-man roster for the U.S. Men’s Olympic Soccer Team training camp, the Littleton native has two chances this week to show he has what it takes to play at the coveted tournament when the young side takes on Iraq and Morocco.
The last time Bassett wore a U.S. badge on his chest was the senior team’s final game of 2021 against Bosnia and Herzegovina where he notched an 89th-minute game-winning goal, marking a new record for the national team to close out the year with 17 wins.
After that win, he quickly departed the States to begin his European campaign with Eredivisie side Feyenoord and did not appear for the Stars and Stripes for the entirety of 2022.
Since then, he’s been itching to get back. But this time around, he’s not taking the experience for granted.
Gone are the days of a wide-eyed 19-year-old that was having a breakout season with the Rapids, taking everything in stride and pouncing on opportunities where they came. At 22, most would say he’s still too young to see the chances placed before him with a mature mindset; but after a European campaign in 2022 and turbulent MLS season in 2023, Bassett is taking it all in.
“After COVID, when I broke out in my first year [for the Rapids] as a 19-year-old, everything just happened so quickly,” he recollected. “When I got called in I don't know if I fully understood what it meant to be on the senior national team.
“I know that these opportunities don't always come around so often if you don't take advantage of them. So that's what I’ve got to do this week. I think if I have a good week and play well in these games, it sets me up for future success, hopefully going into the Olympics, because then it gives [U.S. U-23 National Team coach] Marko (Mitrović) trust that he really likes me as a player and then I can help his team win at the Olympics.”
The 20-man roster announced by Mitrović showcases a healthy diversity of playing styles and club influences, including 11 MLS teams as well as European clubs Venezia FC and Sparta Rotterdam. When they come together in camp, it’s easy to tell which players come from MLS and which come from Europe, but the style Mitrović is implementing for the friendlies has allowed them all to find chemistry within just a couple days.
Age also plays a large factor in the roster’s ability to mesh well together, as many of the players grew up competing against one another. The age range for the Olympic competition is limited to under 23, with three roster spots for over-age players. Right now, eight players, including Bassett, were born in 2001, the last year before the cutoff, and two were born in 2005, the only players eligible for both the 2024 and 2028 Games.
The age range might seem small but gives perspective for Bassett when thinking about what kind of player he was during the last Olympic cycle. In February 2021, Bassett, Sam Vines, Auston Trusty and Jonathan Lewis were named to the preliminary roster for the 2020 Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying tournament, where Bassett, Vines and Trusty found themselves on the lower end of the age range, and it was Lewis that was the senior of the Rapids group.
“I know how hungry those guys are to show the older guys that they deserve to be there and that they want to be on the team,” he said. “It's good for us [older players] because they push for our positions, and it makes us all better. They've obviously all had good enough years to be here, as well.”
“On the other side, I think that I can provide a leadership role here, just because we've been through a lot more, experienced a fair amount more games than they have,” the midfielder said. “I think it's sometimes key to be on the team if you're a leader; there's not too many of those, especially when you're in the national team group that doesn’t come together for so long. So if you can develop that role, I think it helps you tremendously to make a push for the final roster when it comes summertime next year.”
Bassett’s influence can spill over into the Rapids community as well as younger players like Darren Yapi and Adam Beaudry, who have also gotten a taste of the international stage and can excel there with more call ups. Academy players Miguel Alvarado and Owen Malick recently received their own call-ups to the U.S. U-16 Men’s Youth National Team domestic training camp and could see international caps in their future.
“To have the opportunity right now to showcase myself--it's so important for the younger guys to be able to see that a kid from Colorado can do it,” he said. “Any young kid that's watching us on TV at the Olympics can realize that they can be the same thing that we are, that we were that kid one day. It's cool to think about it like that. As a player you don't have to think about it too much like that until other people put it in perspective for you.”
Bassett was keen to note his desire to get onto a pre-Olympic camp roster before the year's end after missing the call up to the camp held in Phoenix in October, even after notching his single-season, career-high sixth goal of the year against Houston earlier in the month. The goals were great, and so was his growth at the end of the season after spending a considerable of time away from the pitch with various injuries throughout the year, but he had his sights set on the international stage once knowing the Rapids were officially eliminated from the playoffs.
Since that moment of manifestation, Bassett had one more regular season MLS game to show Mitrović and assistants that he was able to compete at the Olympic level and less than a month later he found himself in San Pedro del Pinatar, Spain, training with some of the best young players in the country.
“The biggest thing it’s shown me is that if you perform the way that I did at the end of the year that [coaches] will be watching, and they think you deserve the opportunity as well,” he said. "Sometimes you have to be patient. There are times where you could be playing well and maybe you’re just not a part of that group yet. But I think it's good for your self-confidence to have belief in something. It's not always as easy to speak it and then actually go do it.”
The Colorado Homegrown has the chance to feature twice for the Olympic team in the next six days; first, in the Stars & Stripes' matchup with Iraq on Saturday, Nov. 18 and then against Morocco on Tuesday, Nov. 21.