By Patrick Shea

The first day of the Colorado Rapids Tryout Combine at the Foothills Sports Arena in southwest Denver featured less than 24 players.

According to Brian Crookham, Senior Director of Soccer Development for the Rapids, “We decided to select a smaller group this year so we could get to the point quicker.”

The point, according to Crookham, is to find players who can help the first team in Commerce City or bolster the Charlotte Independence, Colorado’s USL Pro affiliate. The coaching staff screened prospective players in advance to narrow the field. Head coach Pablo Mastroeni evaluated from the sidelines, along with Steve Cooke, Chris Sharpe, Jamie Smith, and almost all of the Rapids coaches.

Players gather for the afternoon session at the Foothills Sports Arena.

Players gather for the afternoon session at the Foothills Sports Arena.

The morning session included games on a shortened field with goalkeepers, seven field players, and a full-time attacker who switched allegiance when possession changed. One of the “all-time offense players” was Luke Vercollone.

Drafted 42nd overall in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft, Vercollone spent his first two professional seasons with the New England Revolution. In search of more minutes, he played in the USL Pro league (two years for the Charleston Battery and seven with the Richmond Kickers). In the winter of 2014, the Rapids took a long look at Vercollone on trial, but he returned to Richmond. He came back to Colorado in October when he became the first signing for Switchbacks FC, the new USL Pro team in Colorado Springs.

Since the coaches already knew Vercollone, his presence gave them a benchmark for measuring the other players. Rapids Academy players Quentin Pearson and Sam Raben served the same purpose. Both players trained frequently with the Rapids first team in 2014, and they featured in many games with the Rapids Reserves. On Monday, Pearson played consistent central defense and timed his runs on corner kicks to head five shots on goal.

Another known commodity, Collin Harrison played in the 11v11 games in the afternoon. Harrison played for Colorado Rush as a youngster before his collegiate career at Gonzaga University. During the summers, the midfielder from Boulder played with the Rapids U-23 team in the Premier Development League (PDL). In 2010, he played for the Ogden Outlaws PDL squad in Utah.

In 2011, Harrison moved to Canada and played with current Rapids netminder Clint Irwin at Capital City FC. Starting all 25 games at central midfield, Harrison scored three goals, registered three assists, and helped the team reach the Canadian Soccer League championship game. From there, Harrison’s professional journey took him farther from home.

After his year with Irwin in Canada, Harrison trained with FB Gulbene in Latvia in 2012 and spent another few months with Knattspyrnufélag Fjarðabyggðar in Iceland. After time in England, Harrison joined his current club, Palma de Mallorca in Spain. In addition to his U.S. passport, Harrison has an EU passport, which has helped secure work abroad on the soccer field.

The Spanish calendar allows players to celebrate the holidays, so Harrison had a chance to return home. On Sunday, he went snowshoeing with Irwin and Rapids midfielder Dillon Powers.

The 2014 AT&T Rookie of the Year, Tesho Akindele, participated in the Rapids Tryout Combine last year. Former Rapids players Stephen Keel and Steven Emory also entered MLS through previous tryout combines in Colorado.

As the sun melted snow and heated up outside, the inside of the Foothills Sports Arena was at least 10 degrees colder. Some players started to cramp by the end of the afternoon session, so Crookham encouraged them to take care of themselves for Day Two on Tuesday. They all have a fair shot.