The Colorado Rapids defender - and Homegrown Player - Shane O’Neill is in England for training with Sheffield Wednesday of the Football League Championship, the second tier of English professional soccer.
The 21-year-old O’Neill, a local product from Boulder’s Fairview High School, has started 45 of his 48 appearances for the Rapids in the last three years. He passed up a chance to play for the University of Virginia in 2013 and, instead, signed with the Rapids in June of 2012 as an MLS “Homegrown Player. Prior to that he had played on Rapids’ Development Academy teams at the under-16 and under-18 age levels.
O’Neill returns to England after having trained last year with Fulham, which at that time was in the English Premier League. He views this as another opportunity to get valuable off-season training with one of England’s established clubs.
“I was looking forward to some time off, but this opportunity is too good to pass up,” he said. “Anytime you get a chance to train with a club like this, it’s massive, and I’m excited to see how much my game has grown since I went last year.”
O’Neill recovered from a mid-season MCL sprain and returned to the Rapids lineup after being out from mid-July to mid-September. He has been a fixture in the center of the Rapids’ backline, alongside captain Drew Moor, who missed the final 10 games of 2014 season with a knee injury.
“Having had the opportunity to play alongside Shane and then coach him this past season, I can say that he’s a player that has the hunger and desire to achieve great things,” said Rapids Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni. “And this time in Europe will also be especially valuable because he missed part of our season this year because of injury.”
O’Neill, a past winner of both the Rapids’ Young Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards, made his club debut in 2012 as a teenager in an international friendly against English Premier League side Swansea City. His first MLS appearance was September 5, 2012 in a 3-0 win over the Portland Timbers.
Originally signed as a midfielder, he moved to central defender while playing for the USA at the 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Turkey.
“We’re happy that one of the players we’ve discovered locally has this opportunity to get some extra work,” said Paul Bravo, the Rapids’ vice president of soccer operations and technical director. “This shows that our commitment to developing players from the local area has been successful, and that our coaches have done a great job bringing Shane along.”
O’Neill earned his first call-up to the senior U.S. national squad earlier this year, when he was invited along to the January camp.
As a high school star in Boulder, O’Neill was named the 2011 Gatorade Boys Soccer Player of the Year for Colorado, was selected to the Denver Post’s All-Colorado team, and was named 2011 Front Range League Player of the Years. In addition he was named the most valuable player for the West team in the 2011 National High School All-American game played in Birmingham, Ala.
A dual citizen (USA and the Republic of Ireland), O’Neill, who has five siblings, moved from Ireland to the USA when he was just a year old. His brother, Darragh, is a standout senior punter for the football team at the University of Colorado. His father, Colm, was an All-Ireland Gaelic footballer, who played for the Cork senior inter-county team. His mother, Christine, played basketball in Ireland.
“It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride the past two years,” O’Neill said, “but (being a young player) you just have to stay focused and establish yourself and put in strong performances week-in and week-out to prove that you belong.”
Plans are for O’Neill to return to Colorado on or about December 4.
Side note: USA’s John Harkes played at Sheffield Wednesday
O’Neill follows in the footsteps of U.S. international midfielder John Harkes, who played at Sheffield Wednesday from 1990-96. At the time, Harkes was the first American to play in the English Premier League. His 35-yard goal in 1990 was named England’s goal of the year. In 1993, Harkes became the first American to score in a League Cup final, a 2-1 Sheffield Wednesday loss to Arsenal.
About Sheffield Wednesday
Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, established in 1867, is located in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England and competes in the Championship, the second tier of the Football League. The club has a rich history, having joined the Football League in 1892. The Owls’ home matches are played at Hillsborough Stadium (approximately 40,000 capacity) in the northwestern suburb of Owlerton.