It had been 810 minutes since his last appearance, on July 12 at the Philadelphia Union, a match during which Shane O’Neill suffered a right MCL sprain that was more than just a nagging pain for nearly three months. He made an unexpected recovery, though, and played the full 90 minutes against the Portland Timbers on Saturday night, helping the team to their first point since July 25.
At one point, the outlook seemed unlikely for O’Neill to return this season. His recovery was slow, but a platelet-rich plasma injection in mid-August did the trick and the 21-year-old began his steep climb back to being match-ready. Even last week, there was speculation that O’Neill would not make his return until Friday’s showdown at rivals Real Salt Lake (NBCSN, kick-off 8 p.m MT).
“I wanted to be out there for this game,” said O’Neill about making his return on Saturday. “We all felt that it was a 'must result', so I really wanted to be out here. It’s something to build off of. If we could have held out (for the win) it would have been huge.”
O’Neill’s injury turned out to be the start of what would be a record-breaking summer of sorrow. On July 30 the New England Revolution ironically snapped their own massive losing streak by defeating Colorado 3-0, which was the start of a team-high seven straight losses for the Rapids. In the middle of all this, Colorado also lost captain Drew Moor to a season-ending ACL tear, and fill-in center back Jared Watts who is still recovering from a strained hamstring.
Starting in the Saturday night match against the Timbers, O’Neill’s return seemingly gave the Rapids defense the anchor they’d been missing, and gave the team the glimmer of hope they’ve been waiting for.
“When I was out there I was fine, I thought ‘I can make it the full 90,’” O’Neill told media about his physical stamina in his first match back. “But, by the 75th-80th minute I was getting pretty tired, and that was creeping into my head but I knew I just had to tough it out and get through this one for the team.”
O’Neill still has a lot of work to do to return to full match fitness, but he and this teammates are up for the challenge of righting the Rapids’ ship.
“We’re ready to fight [against] RSL. We need three points. That’s all it is at this point. It’s three points or bust from here on out.”
While the Rapids certainly have their work cut out , they may have a talisman on their side with O’Neill back in the lineup. Though slightly far-fetched to credit results to the young center back’s mere presence, the Rapids have fared well with the Homegrown Player in the starting XI earning an 18-8-15 record from the 2013 and 2014 seasons combined, compared to 4-16-1 when O’Neill subs in or doesn’t appear at all.