Commerce City, Colo. - On a night with the Rapids honored Colorado Heroes in public service and athletics, it was perhaps fitting that Boulder-native Shane O'Neill made his MLS debut.
The 19-year-old became the club's first homegrown player to develop from the Academy system and play an MLS game when he replaces Jeff Larentowicz in the 86th minute of the team's 3-0 win over Portland at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
"All my family was here and a few friends, so it was a good one for me to get a chance," O'Neill said afterwards. "I've been chomping at the bit to come and get out on the field. Swansea was fun, but I really wanted to get into the MLS because obviously that's the serious stuff where the points matter."
The rookie got his first experience as a pro when he played in the Rapids' friendly win over English Premier League side Swansea City in July. However, Wednesday's regular season match is the only one that goes in the record books.
"Tonight I was a bit nervous, but once I got a few touches on the ball, the game opened up for me a little bit and I relaxed a little bit," he said of his debut. "It was nice. I was very pleased with the way that I played."
Signed on June 19, O'Neill had already made a few game days rosters but had yet to enter a match.
"Very proud and happy for Shane," coach Oscar Pareja said. "I thought he was waiting for this opportunity. I know this has been a special day for the club, it's been a special day for Shane, his family, his coaches, the people who have been around him."
Following his debut, the players presented the former Fariview High School star with a present.
"The guys gave me the match ball after game," O'Neill said, as he flipped the ball to see it signed by all his teammates. "It was my first time on the field, so it was very exciting. This will be a good memory going forward for me."
O'Neill knows minutes may be hard to come by, but he'll be ready when called upon.
"Honestly it's the coach's decision," he said. "I hope I made a good enough impression. I'll just keep working hard and keep going forward, and keep improving for next year."