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DAILY CAMERA: Rapids U-23 Players Get Chance to Prove Themselves in Exhibition

June 21, 2007

The following excerpt is from an article by Joshua Lindenstein that ran in the June 20, 2007 edition of The Daily Camera.

Boulder, Colo. - As far as he knows, Nick Blanco has been told he and his injured hamstring won't suit up for the Colorado Rapids U-23 squad when it plays host to the MLS version of the Rapids at the Pleasant View Soccer Complex tonight.

Then again, Blanco might just sneak on the field.

The chance to put his skills up against those of the pros is certainly one worth playing through a little pain for.

"I feel like I might have the opportunity to play at that level, and I just feel like it's a great stage to prove I can do it," said Blanco, a Dakota Ridge High School grad from Littleton who will be a senior at Loyola Marymount University in the fall.

The local squad hosts the MLS Rapids at 5 p.m. in the first of two exhibition matches between the two teams in Boulder this season.

This year marks the sixth in a row that the two teams will have squared off against each other, and there was a time when the matches were pretty competitive affairs. Coach Peter Ambrose's U-23 team, known until this season as the Rapids Reserve, beat the MLS Rapids 1-0 in 2003 in an exhibition match in Colorado Springs during a summer in which then-Rapids head coach Tim Hankinson was already on the hot seat.

"It was (exciting), but we were not really allowed to celebrate or tell the newspapers or put it on our Web site," Ambrose said.

The days of the U-23 squad pushing for victories against the Rapids pretty much went out the window with the hiring of head coach Fernando Clavijo, whose MLS squads have made the games fairly one-sided in recent years.

By no means, however, does that mean the U-23 team will lie down for the parent club. For many of the U-23 players, some of whom play for smaller col-lege programs, the games are the best chance they'll get to shine in front of pro coaches and scouts.

Blanco was pulled up to practice with the Rapids once earlier this season, and the U-23 squad has already faced the Rapids in a couple of scrimmages.

"It is intimidating, but it's exciting, too," Blanco said.