COMMERCE CITY, Colo.- Colorado Rapids rookie midfielder Jared Watts won’t ever forget Saturday – for more than one reason.
First and most obviously, the 22-year-old second round pick in this year’s MLS SuperDraft made his MLS debut, starting at defensive midfield in place of the suspended Jose Mari. That was already a pretty big deal. But then, things really got interesting.
In the 62nd minute, Watts’ MLS debut then transformed into a positional debut. Left back Marc Burch limped off in the 62nd minute with a calf contusion and had to substitute off. With regular left back Chris Klute already out injured, the Rapids didn’t have any true cover for Burch. So Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni turned to Watts – his MLS career barely an hour old – and asked him to play a position he’d never played before: left back.
Watts didn’t hesitate in saying 'yes'. While the defense conceded two goals after the switch, the Wake Forest product received high marks for his performance at a position he’d never played.
“He’s one of my favorites,” Mastroeni said of Watts to reporters postgame on Saturday. “I ask the guy if he could slide into left back. We have no left-footed guy on the bench at the moment. And he said ‘absolutely’. And I think this guy’s going to be around many, many years. He’s so versatile.”
Watts impressed Mastroeni and his teammates with a solid display in central midfield. Playing a conservative defensive midfield just in front of the back four, the Statesville, N.C. native did the dirty work – winning possession, distributing out of the midfield and making the periodic tough tackle – and did it well. Though the Rapids were down 1-0 when Watts switched, they had dominated the first 60+ minutes of action, and in particular, the midfield.
“He brings a lot of heart and passion to every game, every practice,” Mastroeni added. “I was really pleased with his performance.”
Watts credited the switch to left back as a big learning experience. With Jose Mari set to return from his suspension next week, Watts, who has played center back during the preseason as well, may have to be versatile in order to earn looks this season. And if Saturday’s impromptu test served as an early indicator, it’s that the rookie is more than capable of handling that type of challenge.
“What I wanted to do was just come in any I can help the way,” Watts said postgame on Saturday. “I thought sliding out there wasn’t too bad, especially against the defending champs, a good learning experience for sure.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com