Coloradans Dillon Serna and Seb Anderson are no different than most supporters of the Rapids. The two Homegrown players want to win. They want to represent their state and their club with pride. They want to inspire the next generation. They also know nothing great happens overnight.
In recent months, countless milestones for the club’s Homegrown Players and Development Academy have come and gone. All of them deserve to be celebrated by fans of soccer in Colorado, but none matched what took place on Saturday night in Atlanta...
A 16-year-old Homegrown right back made his debut as the youngest player in club history.
A 25-year-old Homegrown reached 100 MLS appearances for his hometown team.
Let that sink in for a moment and realize that regardless of result, it was a positive night for soccer in the state.
"It was definitely a big moment for me, my family and everyone who supports me," Anderson said about his debut. "It was definitely a proud moment for sure. I was really blessed to get on the field and get a start. It was a great day overall."
Anderson, took the first steps in what he hopes is a long and successful career. In just four months, the ThunderRidge High School junior grabbed hold of the opportunity presented for him to attend preseason camp and earned a five-year contract in the process. A few months later, Anderson was awarded a starting spot in the lineup against the defending MLS Cup champs in their building. In his 80-minute debut against the Five Stripes he demonstrated that he possesses the skillset and makeup to play a long time as a pro.
“I thought he was confident, he played positive. I thought he was up for it,” Dillon Serna said about Anderson’s debut. “He’s got a bright future.”
"It's an amazing state (Colorado) to be raised in and I am very proud to be able to play for my hometown," Anderson said. "You can see with all these Homegrowns signings, there are a lot of athletes in Colorado that are getting recognized and getting opportunities to become professional athletes."
Serna, now in his seventh season an MLS veteran, reached the century mark wearing the crest of his home state. In his seven-year career, he’s overcome adversity and has become a valuable asset to the club on the field, a fan favorite and community ambassador off the field.
"Growing up in Colorado and being a huge Rapids fan makes it that much sweeter," Serna said. "I have that extra pride when I put the jersey on. I want to make the state happy and I want to make my family proud."
There will be more players motivated by Serna & Anderson coming down the pipeline that's already begun to pay dividends. Even the most cynical fans should look no further than Cole Bassett’s performance in Orlando earlier this month. The 17-year old was a dynamic force on a field that included, among others, a Champions League winning Designated Player on the opposition.
"There are always going to be these big superstars that are coming over from other leagues, but the younger generation is going to continue to grow and get bigger and bigger," Serna commented. "These kids are going to make more and more of an impact every single weekend, so I think it is very exciting."
Across MLS, teams are trying to find a balance between young, hungry Homegrown talent, and bigger money signings on more established players. It’s no easy feat, but in just a few short years, the Rapids have emerged front and center as a club who believes a strong consistent side is built on the foundation of in-house talent.
“If they’re good enough, they’re old enough,” Executive Vice President & General Manager Padraig Smith told the media on the day Anderson signed. “We look for talent, we look for the right players and to put them in challenging situations to make sure they’ve got the talent and the maturity. Seb is just another in a long line of Academy players that we know have what it takes.”