I caught the initial trickle in 1995 along with 180 other guys at a Major League Soccer talent search in Colorado. No one in the group advanced toward the payroll for that inaugural season. After I handed in my bib, I wrote a 1,000-word description of the weekend and have been writing about MLS and the Colorado Rapids ever since.

Now I’m getting some help. At the close of the 2014 MLS season, Brian Jennings adds the perspective of an MLS veteran reporter. Jennings covered the Wiz/Wizards before moving to Colorado for more than a decade of Rapids coverage for Soccer365.com (now 365.worldsoccershop.com) and Coloradorapids.com.

John Babiak captures photos at Rapids games and training sessions, and I’m grateful for the chance to use his images on this site as well.

One way to lose a generation of soccer players is to continually change the names of the leagues in which they languished. Over the years, many American leagues have gone defunct, revived, and died again, often with subtle but hopeful name changes. The confusion continues, making it nearly impossible to align today’s American leagues with the equivalent first, second, and third divisions in other countries.

Many Americans consider the North American Soccer League (NASL) to be the kickoff for professional soccer in the United States. Wrong. The NASL was Frankenstein stitched together from the merger between the United Soccer Association (USA) and the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) in 1968. Much earlier, the boom/bust cycle of American soccer name-changing started in the 19th century. In 1884, the American Football Association (AFA) became the first group to organize. The AFA’s regional approach conflicted with the coast-to-coast view from the emerging American Amateur Football Association (AAFA). The AAFA changed its name to the United States Football Association (USFA) and gained FIFA recognition in 1913. The names of governing bodies, leagues, and leaders continued to morph for another 100 years.

Throughout the 1970s, particularly with the arrival of Pelé in 1975, the NASL achieved a new level of legitimacy among American soccer fans. Famous international players saw greener pastures in the NASL, perfect for final grazing. Running from 1968 to 1984, the NASL story line started with the New York Cosmos attracting Brazilians Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento) and Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer (Germany), Giorgio Chinaglia (Italy), Andranik Eskandarian (Iran), and other global stars. The Cosmos held power in the middle phase of the NASL story. But then the Cosmos themselves faded and the league finally died in 1984. At that point, the cities with the strongest soccer cultures quietly kept the game alive, sort of like the Centralia mine fire in Pennsylvania.

Before and after his pro career, my friend John Purtteman’s teams played in the Continental Indoor Soccer League (CISL), the NPSL, the Premier Soccer Alliance (PSA), the World Indoor Soccer League (WISL), and one of three incarnations of the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL).

Questions about the MISL might pertain to the first version (1978–1992), the rejuvenation a decade later when former NPSL teams combined with WISL teams to call their league MISL (2001–2008), or the current league founded in 1998 and renamed with the familiar MISL moniker.

To clarify, the name of the league for the final two seasons of the initial MISL (1991–1992) was “Major Soccer League” (MSL), not to be confused with today’s top level in the nation, Major League Soccer (MLS).

Colorado Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni values the chance to send his players to off-season training sessions at international clubs.

“We have contacts all over the world,” Mastroeni explained. “The soccer community is relatively small, so we’re one person away from any club in the world.”

Guest training agreements provide “benefits for everyone involved,” said Mastroeni. “It’s an opportunity for players to get experience. It could potentially be like a trial. It gives clubs a chance to look at young players and see what kind of talent we’re producing here. And for us it’s a great experience to provide for a young guy.”

Noting how pairs of players can have a good time sharing the cultural experience, Mastroeni said, “That sometimes makes it more comfortable. They can have someone to pal around with and see the city when they’re not training.”

If a player has a great experience abroad and improves, it helps the Rapids as an organization. But the player himself benefits the most.

“It’s more for the individual than it is for our sake,” Mastroeni said. “We’ll see what opportunities arise.”

For now, Mastroeni and his technical staff are concentrating on the final game in Vancouver this weekend and personnel planning before training concludes on November 5.

I watched my first ECNL games at Addenbrooke Park in Lakewood this weekend, an eye-opening experience partially viewed through the lens of a video camera. Gobs of people told me the Elite Clubs National League is the girls’ equivalent of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy level for boys. If someone tells me about a higher level of 14- to 18-year-old girls playing soccer in Colorado, I’d be surprised (and I’d go see it).

On Saturday, the Colorado Rush U15 team beat San Juan Soccer Club 2-1. Quaid Solarte followed up her own penalty kick and blasted the rebound for the game-winner. The intensity didn’t seem as high on Sunday when they tied Santa Rosa United 2-2. But Rush kept composure to equalize not long before the final whistle.

Sofia Weiner and Sage Digiulio from the Rush U16 team scored in the 2-0 victory over Santa Rosa United on Sunday. I didn’t see the 2-0 win over San Juan Soccer Club on Saturday for comparison, and three Rush games against California teams doesn’t make me an ECNL expert. But the combinations, technique, pace of the game, and calm decision-making made it entertaining for me.

Even though MLS is old enough to drive and can legally drink pretty soon, discussing promotion/relegation is like recommending Rogaine and hip replacements for toddlers. It’s too soon.

“I think it’s still a challenge,” FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja said after his team beat the Colorado Rapids 1-0 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park last Saturday. “As much as I want the league to keep growing, it has to make sense. We still have some franchises that are getting stronger in the community and we would like to be more solid. It’s probably too early.”

Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni identified the economic elephant in the room.

“Owners wouldn’t buy into franchises if they knew they might go down to Triple-A, for example,” Mastroeni said. “I think that has to be a part of the culture. The clubs over in Europe and South America have had it for so long, it’s an understood aspect of the game. Knowing you could potentially lose a hundred million dollars without TV rights next year would be a hard thing for any investor to swallow.”

The bucks stop here, and a string of issues go far beyond money. For one, where is “here?” You can’t say “U.S.” because the Whitecaps, Toronto FC, and Impact will correct you. You can’t say “MLS” either because the presumption is to immediately fill the lower tiers with teams from non-MLS cities. As the U.S. Open Cup has shown us since MLS began, plenty of teams want to challenge this presumption. Or, if you restrict it to MLS, without a reserve league and 60-men rosters for each club, you can’t fabricate a first and second division using the busy-bees of the collective hive. And you can’t propose a NAFTA-type solution because Liga MX already has a promotion/relegation system.

In the meantime, the 100-year-old U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League will have to satisfy curious fans looking for Cinderella stories that challenge the boundaries between the Good, the Better, and the Best.

Seattle Sounders FC goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann played the first 67 minutes of the reserve game against the Colorado Rapids in Commerce City on Monday. The 42-year-old started his professional career with the Rapids in the late 1990s, improving throughout his three-year stint and raising his game for 13 years in England with Fulham, Reading, and Wolverhampton. Hahnemann returned home to Seattle for retirement in 2012, but Sounders assistant coach Brian Schmetzer and other folks basically talked him out of it.

Schmetzer provided instructions from the bench during the 1-1 reserve game today, and a number of Hahnemann’s old Colorado connections watched as well. In an interview after his cool-down sprints, Hahnemann took a long look back at the early years.

“When I started with the old Sounders in the A league,” Hahnemann recalled, “I was playing against Lorne [Donaldson, Director of Coaching at Real Colorado]. We had a good rivalry with the Foxes. Lorne was here today. Frank Kohlenstein [also at the game] is still the coach at the Colorado School of Mines. All those guys who were here then are still here now. And I’ve kept in contact with them. It felt like coming home almost. My oldest son was born here. We kept our house here forever. We finally sold it last year because we always thought we’d end up back here at some stage.”

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Photo by John Babiak
Marcus Hahnemann watches a shot sail past the post in the 1-1 Sounders/Rapids reserve game on October 6, 2014

The Seattle soccer scene took a slight dip when the NASL folded, but it came roaring back before MLS came along.

“There was a time,” Hahnemann recalled, “… ‘84 until ‘94 basically, when there was nothing. But then we had the Tacoma Stars, FC Seattle. Then in ‘94 I just finished up at Seattle Pacific University and stepped right in because I was playing full-time. In college, it’s kind of your job. I had such an advantage to play at such a young age.”

Fast-forward to October 2014.

“Now,” Hahnemann said with a pause. “I’ve played a long time. One of the questions Schmetz asked me before I played was, ‘Look, if you don’t play, what are you going to be like? Are you going to want to play?’ Obviously, I still want to play. And I think I can play, for the first team. So he asked me again, ‘what are you going to be like if you’re not playing?’ I said, ‘Schmetz, if I don’t play games next year, that doesn’t matter. It’s still my team.’ I’ve played lots of games for the Sounders, maybe not recently. But this is my team.”

Hahnemann remembered his options in 2012. “I didn’t want to go to Montreal,” Hahnemann said. “I would have come to Colorado because we still have a lot of connections here. But that’s why I retired and ended up in Seattle. It was like, ‘done, I’m done.’ And the next thing you know, I was asked to play. I had three months off not playing.”

That was two years ago. Hahnemann made four saves in the Sounders’ 3-1 CONCACAF Champions group stage victory over Marathon in 2012, his lone appearance of the season. He played four MLS games, CCL games, and reserve games in 2013. But his place on the team is not measured in minutes alone. Hahnemann’s history with the club goes back decades, and he’s still part of the team.

Hahnemann joined in with teammates for the Sounders away-victory song in the locker room following the 4-1 victory over the Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Sunday afternoon. The song follows the melody of “Jingle Bells,” but with different words, of course.

“That goes back to the old ‘80s,” Hahnemann recalled. “Old Sounders. When we win one away, we sing the song. When the new guys come in, they say, ‘are you kidding me? This is so stupid and corny.’ We do it all the time. I’ve always done it, and I think it was before my time.”

Hahnemann’s time, at 42, predates MLS and extends into the future with Seattle Sounders FC. He can still play on the field, yet he has an eye for tomorrow.

“I have my ideas for the future,” Hahnemann said. “Even on the field. As a goalkeeper, you’re constantly yelling. You’re trying to organize, trying to get the guys back in position. So you are kind of coaching all the time. I wouldn’t mind coaching at some stage, whether it’s for the club my kids play for, or at a different level.”

The Seattle Sounders missed a few easy chances on Sunday, so the 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids could have been worse. The reserves play at 11:00 today. I’m creating my own aggregate scoring system. Why not? Zat Knight wasn’t aware of his plan for the reserves game during his interview yesterday, but he’s eligible for another 45 minutes. Marlon Hairston was set to come on for Jose Mari, but Chris Klute’s injury trumped our Spaniard’s muscle strain. So Marlon played right back instead. He had to retreat a couple times, and he attacked as much as the game allowed. He made the most of his 16 minutes. Dillon Serna played 31, so he’s eligible for an hour. Serna and Hairston don’t leave for the U-23 camp in Brazil until Thursday.

I’d really love to see Marlon paired with Paolo DelPiccolo in the center of the field. They played together in college, and Paolo is a home-town no-brainer pursuit for the Rapids. We’ll also have trialists from the Charlotte Eagles (Bilal Duckett and Ben Newnam). I’m also looking forward to watching “Q” (Quentin Pearson, U-18 Development Academy) and Patrick Slogic (current Rochester Raging Rhino and former Rapids DA before four years at Cornell University).

In my home-made aggregate scoring system for this weekend’s Sounders/Rapids double-header, if a trialist gets a goal, it’s worth two points. At 9:43 a.m., Rave Green is up 4-1.

By J.A. Babiak

The Rapids front office announced that they have re-signed 23-year-old midfielder Dillon Powers to a multi-year contract. As per MLS policy, the terms of the deal were not disclosed. According to the MLS Players Union Web site, Powers is guaranteed $127,650 in total compensation in 2014.

“I’m really happy to be at the heart of what we’re building here in Colorado,” said Powers, a University of Notre Dame graduate.

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Photo by Marko Babiak

In very short order, Powers has earned the respect of the Rapids front office, coaching staff, and his fellow MLS playmakers. “With these young players coming in, we don’t quite always know how it will pan out for them,” said Rapids Assistant Coach Steve Cooke. “Dillon over the last 18 months has shown that he is not only able to play at this level, but he is able to do very, very well at this level. He signs a new contact that keeps him at the club for years to come, and we then get to hopefully help him develop even further and become a top player in the league. That is significant. It also shows other younger players that if they come here, work hard, and perform consistently well over a long period of time, they also have the opportunity to further their careers here.”

Powers was the 11th overall selection in the first round of the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. Edging out teammate Deshorn Brown and Seattle Sounder DeAndre Yedlin, he won the MLS Rookie of the Year award. Powers has quickly become the cornerstone of the Rapids midfield. This season he has contributed five goals and nine assists in 27 games, surpassing his rookie achievements of five goals and six assists.

“Dillon had a tremendous rookie year with us, and all this season has shown steady improvement,” said Rapids Vice President of Soccer Operations and Technical Director Paul Bravo. “We are in the process of building the foundation of our club around players like Dillon — young, talented, and soccer-smart. We’re thrilled that he will be a part of the Rapids for years to come.”

In August Powers became the youngest Rapid to wear the captain’s armband. “He’s been asked to fill some very big shoes with Drew Moor’s injury and has shown great maturity and responsibility in the midst of difficult results. I’m very proud of him and excited to see his career develop,” said Rapids Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni. Mastroeni added, “I got the opportunity to briefly play alongside Dillon when he first came here, and he has amazing potential.”

With Powers wrapped up for several more years, fans can enjoy watching his improvement in the Colorado kit.

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