The MLS Cup might have been over, and our Rapids might have come up a bit short in getting to the big game. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t Colorado Rapids playing for a championship this weekend.
Sunday featured the NCAA Men’s Soccer Final between Wake Forest and Stanford. Both teams feature graduates from the 2014 Rapids Academy, with Wake Forest defender Sam Raben starting in central defense and goalkeeper Andrew Epstein starting between the pipes for Stanford.
The game was a tight and tense affair, and, just like the MLS Cup the night before, ended after extra time with the score still knotted, 0-0. In penalties, Stanford took a 5-4 lead, setting up a must-score situation for the Demon Deacons. Staring down Wake player Brad Dunwell, Epstein read the shot all the way, winning Stanford their second-consecutive NCAA Championship.
Epstein, from Fort Collins, had a spectacular 2016 year. His triumph in penalty kicks over Wake Forest followed a similar penalty kick victory over the University of North Carolina in the previous game. Epstein also made All-Pac-12 First Team, Pac-12 Player of the Week, and Top Drawer Soccer Collegiate Player of the Week. He adds to that multiple academic All-American awards over his three years at Stanford, all earned while working towards his degree in Electrical Engineering.
Sam Raben had a standout season for for Wake Forest as well. Raben started on defense for Wake in every game in 2016, his Sophomore season. Sam started every game in his Freshman season too, and was named Top Drawer Soccer’s 13th best Freshmen in 2015. Raben recorded three assists for Wake Forest this season. Raben graduated from Cherry Creek High School in 2014.
Four more Rapids Academy alumni: Kortne Ford, Eric Kronenberg, Karsten Hanlin, and Blake Moncur, were just one game away from the title game themselves. The four, members of the Denver University Pioneers, were knocked out by Wake Forest in the semi-final game on Friday at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. Ford and Hanlin saw significant minutes for the Pios this season, and Ford’s dramatic 89th minute headed goal sent the Rapids through to the Final Four over Clemson on December 1.
Epstein, Ford, and Kronenberg are each in their Junior year at their respective schools, while Raben and Ford are both in their Sophomore year of college, and Moncur is a Freshman at DU.
Although Ford has another year of college eligibility, the Denver Post’s Daniel Boniface reported Sunday that he was in talks to sign with the Rapids.
Hanlin played 1830 minutes for the Pios in 2016, tallying 5 goals and 8 assists. Denver University finished with a dominant 20-1-3 record in 2016 and made its deepest run in the NCAA tournament in school history. Perhaps he’ll join the Colorado Rapids Senior team at some point in 2017 upon graduating from his courses just a few miles south of Commerce City.
Congratulations to all our Academy players and their families on their tremendous success in 2016. There’s a lot for Rapids fans to be proud of this year, from our professionals down to boys and girls at the youth level, and everyone in between.