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Exclusive: 101 speaks to Colorado Rapids’ Cole Bassett about his hopes ahead of the 2021 MLS season

Exclusive: 101 speaks to Colorado Rapids’ Cole Bassett about his hopes ahead of the 2021 MLS season

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The Colorado Rapids’ last MLS title was back in 2010 and since the club has experienced a fluctuation in success. Failing to qualify three times for the MLS play-offs since their previous victory but reaching a semi-final in 2016.

Whilst the Rapids have been trying to find their way, a resurgence could be brewing. With young players being focussed upon and being brought through the academy, there are leaders appearing. Role models who are achieving great things beyond just the club. Midfielder Kellyn Acosta was recently called up to the US Men’s National Team and coach Gregg Berhalter explained his reasoning.

“He, to me, is a really great example of a guy just plugging away and continuing to improve, continuing to stay focused,” he said. “He went about it by playing really well for his club. And then when he got into our environment, he carried that on. And, it’s a good example of, if you don’t succeed at first, keep trying. Sebastian Lletget, Paul Arriola are other examples of that. I think about them in our first January camp, they weren’t starters, and now they’ve worked their way into important parts of this team.

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GLENDALE, ARIZONA – JANUARY 27: Head coach Gregg Berhalter of United States stands on the sidelines before the international friendly against the Panama at State Farm Stadium on January 27, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

“So Kellyn can do that as well, I’m excited for him in this camp. I called him and spoke to him, wanted to see where he was at fitness-wise, and he’s been focused. After the January camp he’s been working really hard, so I think this is a great opportunity for him, and it just shows his resiliency and his ability to keep plugging away. A good example for other players.”

However, Acosta is the not the only name pushing for inclusion in the USMNT. 19-year-old Cole Bassett had a storming 2020 season earning a place with the senior side during the December camp.

Although he missed out on the most recent call-ups, Bassett is pushing to explode in 2021 and 101 caught up with him to hear his story, how he dealt with the chaos of 2020 and his hopes for the future.

Introducing Cole Bassett

“I actually grew up at a different local club, it was called Colorado Rush,” said Bassett when asked how his journey to the Rapids began. “I started when I was four, and I played there until I was about 16. That was kind of my one club. I stayed with them for a while and it got to a point where I felt like for my development I needed to get to a team that had a professional pathway.

“When I was 16 I moved over to the Rapids. I spent just one year in the Academy and within that year I went from the u17s to the u19s to the u23 and then into the first team, so it all happened pretty quickly.

“This is now technically my 4th season even though the first season was like half a season.”

The rise of Bassett’s career through the Colorado-based club was akin to the club’s name itself. Breaking through each level at such speed, it was intriguing to find out how the youngster adjusted upon reaching the senior side.

“It did,” he said when asked if the level of difficulty hit him when he first entered the senior setup. “But I would say that the physical side of the game was the toughest for me because I was always probably one of the skinnier guys on the field and not one of the strongest.

“I think that’s it, but to be honest, with the playing level I’ve felt like every single time I took a step up it just raised my game a bit. It wasn’t like I wasn’t at that level, it honestly made me better just because I had to adapt to how they were playing.

“It obviously did take maybe a couple of weeks to get settled in with the first team and just be confident in myself because you’re training with older men and you’re only 16/17 years old so that was a bit different.

“However, once I did, to be honest, I felt confident and an even better player than I was before just because those guys know how to move the ball faster and your game steps up to a higher level.

“So once I got in there playing with the likes of Jack Price and Kellyn Acosta, who are our midfield partners with me, it’s just helped me form a great partnership with them and now we all feel confident.”

One of the most interesting parts of Bassett’s development was the opportunity to spend two weeks with Premier League side Arsenal. The Gunners are owned by Kroenke Sports & Entertainment and the Kroenke family also owns the Rapids. This meant a brief spell during the international break made a lot of sense.

We asked Bassett if the two week stint had an impact and what he learned whilst with the squad.

“No, I definitely learned some things over there,” he said. “I think I had enough time, even though I was only there for two weeks, it was enough time to be able to grasp the concepts of what they’re doing over there in English football and bring it to my own game.

“Unai [Emery] was the coach and then also Steve Bould was the 23s coach. Steve, he came through and he was Arsene Wenger’s right-hand man for such a long time. He saw so many players come up through the system. He would be telling me about Cesc Fabregas and Patrick Vieira, the guys that can drive through midfield but also create with their passing and then and then get on the end of stuff and finish chances.

Exclusive: 101 speaks to Colorado Rapids’ Cole Bassett about his hopes ahead of the 2021 MLS season

LONDON – FEBRUARY 1: Patrick Vieira and Francesc Fabregas of Arsenal look dejected as Manchester win 2-4 in the Barclays Premiership match between Arsenal and Manchester United at Highbury on February 1, 2005 in London, England. (Photo by Ben Radford/Getty Images)

“I think I added an element of being able to drive through midfield a bit more. I don’t think I was doing that enough when I first got into senior football over here. I was playing a bit conservative but with them, it was always that you must have an idea of where you’re going with every touch and then be able to drive the team forwards.

“Obviously I wish it was longer than two weeks but you know it was a great experience it’s definitely made me want to keep working hard over here because I know that I can play at that level over there and that’s where I want to be eventually for a long period of time.”

When 101 spoke with Philadelphia Union keeper Matt Freese, the shot stopper spoke about how The Union had aided in the sale of Brenden Aaronson to Red Bull Salzburg. The likes of NYCFC have championed Joe Scalley’s move to Borussia Monchengladbach.

With curiosity, getting Bassett’s thoughts on whether MLS clubs do want to keep hold of their best talents or that the sides will encourage high-profile sales to Europe was intriguing. He spoke of how the combination of the two is what is leading to the league and North American soccer’s recent success.

“I think it’s both. Some of my good friends have just made the move over: Bryan Reynolds, Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie. I see the clubs still kind of giving them hype while they’re doing well over there and still supporting them,” said Bassett.

“That’s good for me to see that the club, they care about you and even though you’re gone and you’re not with them anymore, they gave you your chance and they helped you get over there. I really like seeing that they do want to push kids over and they’re supportive of it and they embrace that.

“With the Rapids, I think we haven’t had a kid that came through the system, made it through to the academy, got into the first team, did well with the first team and then got sold over to Europe.”

FRISCO, TX - SEPTEMBER 16: Bryan Reynolds #14 of FC Dallas reacts during the MLS game between FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids at Toyota Stadium on September 16, 2020 in Frisco, Texas. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)

FRISCO, TX – SEPTEMBER 16: Bryan Reynolds #14 of FC Dallas reacts during the MLS game between FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids at Toyota Stadium on September 16, 2020 in Frisco, Texas. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)

“For me and a guy like Sam Vines, I think one of our ambitions is to pave the pathway for younger kids. We just signed Darren Yapi who has just turned 16. I think for us we want to be those trendsetters that show the younger kids in the academy that you can play well and if you do well, you’ll get your shot in the first team.

“Then ultimately you have to perform in the first team. It is not like you just have your eyes set on Europe and that’s where you want to go, you still have to perform week in week out and that’s what’s going to get you a move over there.

“I think we’re trying to show that and obviously we haven’t finished that cycle off yet by getting that move. We still have a year or maybe more here but we’re looking to go out this year and show what we’re made of and continue to perform for this team and help this team win because if we do that then I think people will start to notice.”

The difference between Bassett’s output from the 2019 and 2020 MLS seasons was stark. The youngster more than doubled his goal tally for the season despite the interruptions of the worldwide pandemic, which Bassett surprisingly attributed his improvement to.

“I think that Covid quarantine period helped me a lot because although there were pretty tight restrictions, our high school was about 5 minutes from my field,” he said.

“Me, my brother and one of our close friends that lived close we would go to the field nearly every single day during the week, we were doing finishing almost every single day. That was basically all that we were doing.

“By the time I came back, and we started training again my ability on the ball near the box felt a lot better. I felt like I could finish off chances easier than I had before. So, I think that played a big part in it but also with our coach Robin Fraser.

“I think once he gave me his trust and put me in there and allowed me to do what I do best I think that gave me the confidence to go play my game. I think before I was so focused on doing everything that the coach wanted just to get into the team as a young guy, but once I felt that he had the confidence in me, it gave me more confidence to really just help the team win.

“I try to put the team on my back and be one of the guys that helps create goals and win us games having an impact.”

Intrigued as to how the pandemic may have affected Bassett in other ways, we asked the midfielder what his main struggles with the situation had been.

“I mean it’s just tough being away from the game and seeing people,” he said. “I just like being around people in general and it was tough not seeing my teammates every day. Not being able to train the way that I wanted to with a group and then just be able to play games.

“When we came back from Covid it was very tough for me because we went to the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando and I basically wasn’t playing. I probably played about 60 minutes or so during three games while we were down there so that was very tough for me.

“Mostly though just being away from family and then not playing yet feeling like I should.

“However, in the end, I think as a as a young player that has a lot of fitness and energy, it probably benefited me a lot because I could play every three days whereas some guys they probably couldn’t so I think that helped me massively.”

The MLS is beginning to explode with talent and more and more players are taking the move over the Europe. We were curious to ask Bassett as to how he sees the reasoning behind the league’s drastic improvement.

“I think, at least what I’ve seen since I’ve been about 14 or 15, the creation of the academies and what they did there. They put all the best players in one area and allowed us to compete against each other. That pushed up our level,” he said.

“I wouldn’t call it a golden age or golden era similar to Belgium. We’re not close yet, we haven’t achieved what we wanted at the international level.

“You see these age groups from 1997 to 2002, these age groups I think we have so many good players that this country has produced and now our national team, if you look at our starting eleven, I would say almost 80% of that is from those ages.

“Guys like [Christian] Pulisic [Weston] McKennie [Sergino] Dest [Chris] Richards [Gio] Reyna, all those guys are in this age group, so I think that helped tremendously.

Exclusive: 101 speaks to Colorado Rapids’ Cole Bassett about his hopes ahead of the 2021 MLS season

Wales’ Tom Lawrence and USA’s Sergino Dest (left) during the international friendly at The Liberty Stadium, Swansea. (Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

“I also think it is down to coaching. They’ve been doing a good job of teaching us the game but also giving us opportunities. There’s a lot more coaches that are starting to trust in the youth and they’re seeing it pay off on the field because we’re helping them win games.”

Bassett just missed out on his own call-up recently to the latest bout of international fixtures. He has since returned to Colorado from the under-23s after the roster was trimmed but spoke of how he wants to push towards an Olympic team call-up should the US qualify.

“I was pretty excited when I got picked in December, I mean that was a lifelong dream of mine to get into the senior men’s national team,” he said. “To come off that season and get picked for that camp was amazing. But then in the end I didn’t play in the game at the end of the camp so that kind of left me a bit frustrated but also motivated to go into this year and work harder.

“I did get the call to go with the team to help qualify for the Olympics with the u23s and that was a big achievement for me.

“But then the roster got cut short and a couple of us came back to our clubs, so they’re still down there right now competing, and I was one of the guys that got let go. That’s another thing that leaves me a little bit motivated to prove myself this year and to show that I should have been on that team.

“Also, that I should be on the team in the summer that hopefully, if they do end up qualifying for the Olympics, I want to be there. I think I’ve still got a lot left to prove with that and then seeing a teammate like Kellyn Acosta whose with the senior team right now, it just gives me more motivation to get in there because I know that they’re watching our team and if you put in performances then ultimately you’ll get picked.”

Finally, should Bassett make the senior team in the future, he would have done so competing with some of the world’s top young talent. With the likes of Reyna, Aaronson, Pulisic etc, all vying for attacking spots in the team, we were curious to know whether the 19-year-old relished that level of competition and/or if there was a part of him thinking ‘this is going to be tough.’

“Yeah,” Bassett laughs. “I mean it is. When you look at how many good guys that we have in that positions you’re like ‘Wow!’

“It’s going to be tough to make this team, but I love it at the same time. It’s a challenge, it’s going to push me.

“Talking to Gregg Berhalter at the end of the December camp, to see what he wants to see this year, he feels that I was ahead of some of those guys at that age in terms of development.

Christian Pulisic

ORLANDO, FL – OCTOBER 06: Christian Pulisic #10 of the United States reacts after scoring a goal during the final round qualifying match against Panama for the 2018 FIFA World Cup at Orlando City Stadium on October 6, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

“I need to show that I can be a best 11 player in this league, just like Aaronson was last year. He finished in the best 11, so I need to just go out and focus on myself and continue to put in performances week in week out.

“Hopefully that helps with the stat sheet but also for me it’s not always about goals and assists it’s as well about putting in performances to help the team.

“For me, I’ve got big targets this year to try to hit. I definitely want to get double digits in one of them (goals/assists). I’m very focused on that and trying to have that output this season.”

101 would like to thank Cole Bassett for taking the time to speak with us and to wish him the best for the upcoming MLS season. We will be watching closely and hoping for a USMNT call-up once again as soon as possible.

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Jota, Diogo Liverpool FC 15
Vardy, Jamie Leicester City 15
Zaha, Wilfried Crystal Palace 14
Sterling, Raheem Manchester City 13
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