There are moments in a career that players never forget: first professional game, home debut, first win, first goal. For Rapids forward Andre Shinyashiki, another one of those milestone moments was the first time he played against and subsequently exchanged jerseys with one of his lifelong idols, Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Shinyashiki grew up watching Ibrahimović with his dad, so facing him on the pitch was a dream come true for both father and son.
“My dad loves soccer just as much as I do,” Shinyashiki said “My dad has probably seen Zlatan play a million times. I think when Zlatan came to MLS, it was one of the biggest moves ever.”
In the days leading up to the first meeting between the rookie and the superstar, Shinyashiki and his father both had the same thought: the two players needed to swap jerseys. Shinyashiki was nervous, as he's normally shy and doesn’t often trade jerseys. He tried to mitigate his father’s expectations, warning him that he wouldn't ask for the jersey if the Rapids lost.
As Shinyashiki prepared to take the pitch for the match, he saw his idol lined up alongside him.
“I think we walked side-by-side in the tunnel. It was just an emotional moment of realization for me, like, I’m here, playing on the same field with one of my idols. So, it was so cool. Ultimately, it was about winning, and we got the best of it."
The Rapids won 2-1, thanks to a penalty kick by Nicolás Mezquida, who had the opportunity to score because Shinyashiki drew a foul in the box. While he didn’t make the score sheet that night, Shinyashiki’s continued disruption and impact earned him Man of the Match honors.
Following his confidence-boosting performance, Shinyashiki approached Ibrahimović, despite additional unusual circumstances.
“I see Zlatan walking away, upset because they had lost. I just run over about to ask for his jersey, and I see trespassers on the field, and they’re just running around, falling around him, but they cannot touch Zlatan. There’s something about Zlatan, just like his viral videos. Zlatan is just untouchable.
“So, I get right behind Zlatan, ask him for his jersey. He was really nice and said he would give me the jersey inside the locker room and ended up doing just that."
Ibrahimović even politely interrupted Shinyashiki’s postgame press conference to make sure he had received the jersey.
“Zlatan walks up to me and says 'Great game, I hope you received the jersey.' So, I was super happy.”
Shinyashiki couldn’t help but tease his dad after the game.
“I came up to [my dad], hiding the jersey behind my back, just pretending saying 'Sorry Dad, I couldn’t get it. I tried really hard, but he didn’t give me it to me.' Then my dad just says something like 'Aw that’s okay. No problem.' Then I pull out the jersey from behind my back, and he just loses it. He just looked at the jersey with so much joy. It was amazing.”
While the Ibrahimović jersey exchange is the most memorable, Shinyashiki has a slowly growing collection from other opponents as well. He has three additional jerseys from friends that play for various clubs.
"I like to think of my successful friends as idols, too. One of them is Dominique Badji from [last season with] FC Dallas, when we played him. We used to work out a lot together here in Colorado all the time. The other jersey I have is my friend from Orlando City SC, Joao Moutinho... Another one I also traded with was Graham Smith from Sporting Kansas City. We went to college together, which makes it even cooler. I really got to see him grow as a person and player, and ultimately make it to the professional level."
He also has a long list of other players he is targeting to swap with down the road. Shinyashiki doesn't look past the privilege of struggling to decide who to ask next.
"Hopefully I have a long career to play against all these players. It would mean a lot."