By DAN KARELL
The 2013 season has been one of exceeding expectations for Colorado Rapids defender Shane O’Neill.
In his first full year of professional soccer after inking a homegrown contract with the Rapids last June, O’Neill has gone from a talented youngster to a bona fide starter in the club’s backline since late March when he made his starting debut.
O’Neill also featured in the U.S. Under-20 squad this summer in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Turkey, and though the U.S. failed to advance, his performances domestically and for the USA have caught the eye of his birth nation, Ireland.
The 20-year-old defender was born in Midleton, Republic of Ireland, but at the age of one moved to Boulder, Colorado with his family. Though he’s currently in the U.S. Soccer set up and would have to file a one-time switch to play for Ireland, O’Neill said that he’s weighing his international playing options.
“I think it’s just whoever gives me the opportunity,” O’Neill told MLSsoccer.com. “I’d want to play for both; I think I said last week I’d be excited to play for Ireland but I’d also be really happy to play for the U.S., so you know, either way.”
O’Neill admitted that Ireland Under-21 head coach Noel King contacted him last year to see if he wanted to play for “The Green Army,” and he conducted a number of interviews last week with Irish radio stations, where he reportedly expressed his interest in potentially playing alongside LA Galaxy forward Robbie Keane in the Ireland squad.
“Obviously at this point it’s just all up in the air,” O’Neill said. “Nothing written, nothing set in stone or anything like that, so I’m just kind of weighing my options.”
Though circumstances can change, at the senior national team level, the centerbacks for the U.S. Men’s National Team are relatively young as Omar Gonzalez is soon to be 25-years-old, Matt Besler is 26-years-old, and new commit John Brooks is just 20-years-old. All this has happened while head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has phased out veterans like Carlos Bocanegra, 34, and Oguchi Onyewu, 32.
Meanwhile, Ireland, who crashed out of World Cup qualification on September 10 with a loss on the road to Austria, are now not only looking for a new head coach but also a new backline, with Richard Dunne and John O’Shea each in the latter stages of their careers and unlikely to be heavily involved in Ireland’s squad ahead of qualification for Euro 2016.
In his breakout campaign, O’Neill has started 20 of 22 games for the Rapids alongside veteran Drew Moor in the middle, including 12 consecutive starts since returning from the U-20 World Cup at the end of June.
What do you think of this report? Do you see O’Neill sticking with the U.S. or switching to Ireland? Do you believe that losing O’Neill would be a big blow to the USA’s depth?
Share your thoughts below.