Development Academy. First Team. National Team. Europe.
The pathway seems simple, but the saying "it takes a village" never rings truer than when discussing the development of a young elite soccer prospect.
Sam Vines' transfer to play European football will make countless parents, relatives, friends, coaches and mentors a little extra proud on Thursday evening. The 22-year-old Homegrown's next chapter will see him travel to Antwerp, Belgium as he looks to continue his ascent up the ladder of world football with Royal Antwerp F.C.
It would be impossible to congratulate everyone who played a part in Vines' development but here's a short list.
- The Vines family
- Pride Soccer Club
- All current and former Rapids academy and first team staff including Chris Martinez and Paul Bravo
- Rapids Director of Soccer Development, Brian Crookham
- Rapids Academy Technical Director, Chris Cartlidge
- Charlotte Independence Head Coach Mike Jeffries and his staff
- Rapids Director of Scouting, Mitch Murray
"Sad to see him go," Rapids head coach Robin Fraser said with a chuckle just hours after the news had been made public."Honestly, I'm really excited for him. Really since I've been here, he's just continued to get better and better. We all have a sense of pride that we've helped shape him."
At age 13, Vines joined the Rapids Development Academy, commuting up to Denver for training and matches from his hometown Colorado Springs. He blossomed into an elite level prospect, often training and playing with kids several years his senior. In 2017, he began training with the Rapids first team and on February 23, 2018 he was signed to a Homegrown contract. Vines was, at the time, the youngest Homegrown in club history. He spent the majority of the 2018 season training and playing with Charlotte Independence of USL and saw his first MLS minutes come on October 21, 2018 in a 0-0 draw against San Jose.
"Sam was 15 when I first saw him play," Rapids Executive Vice President & General Manager Pádraig Smith said. "You could tell immediately he had qualities. Great credit to our coaching staff at the Academy level for continuing to push him to improve and provide the right environment."
In 2019, Vines took his first major steps in MLS, starting 23 matches. That season, he shutdown Carlos Vela in a coming-out party of sorts, he also starred in the MLS Homegrown Game. In 2020, Vines grabbed his first MLS assist and his first goal while starting every match for Robin Fraser as the Rapids qualified for the playoffs.
On the international scene, Vines made his first appearance in February of 2020 and scored his first goal in the 1-0 win over Haiti just last month. He subbed on and helped the USMNT top Mexico in the Gold Cup final Sunday night.
"We've got a bunch of young guys coming through the system," Vines said on Tuesday. "Obviously that's the goal, to play professionally, for a lot of these kids. Growing up seeing that you can go from the Academy to the first team and eventually get the opportunity to get sold it really it really sparks something in kids."
More than anything, the transfer of Vines signals a full-circle moment for Rapids and specifically the Development Academy. It provides a proof of concept, a legitimate (now paved) pathway from youth soccer up through the highest levels of the sport. The gates are open and Vines' move lends even more credibility to the work that's been done to lay the groundwork for success.