Fall. The mornings start to turn chilly. The stores are filled with Frankenstein abominations of foods with ‘pumpkin spice’ added to them. And you’ve gotta dig around in your kitchen drawer for the phone number of that guy with the lazy eye that blows out your sprinklers at the first freeze.
And for soccer fans in Colorado, with the Colorado Rapids out of the playoff picture, it becomes time to put away your soccer scarf and turn your attention to handegg throwball, either the collegiate or lucratively-well-paid varieties.
But what if I told you (insert Morpheus-in-glasses.gif) that fall is one of the best times to catch quality soccer in Colorado? That’s because the end of the MLS season overlaps with the beginning of the NCAA soccer season. And the University of Denver Pioneers are one of the best mens teams in the country, playing the kind of soccer that Colorado Rapids fans have been dreaming about.
DU have become a Division 1 powerhouse, qualifying for the NCAA tournament in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. Last season, DU made it all the way to the Final Four before falling to Wake Forest. That team was led by three current MLS players: Sam Hamilton and Kort Ford of the Colorado Rapids, and Reagan Dunk, who plays for Real Salt Lake.
This years team is no less impressive. Led by Coach Jamie Franks, the Pioneers play beautiful football. The team’s technical abilities were highlighted this past week in a 2-0 win over Drake, as they vastly out-possessed and out-passed Drake from whistle to whistle. Brazilian striker Andre Shinyashiki applied non-stop pressure and repeatedly made threatening runs, although on this night, he didn’t bag any goals. Midfielder Kenny Akamatsu did the closest impression of Darlington Nagbe I’ve seen since... Darlington Nagbe, with the ball constantly glued to his foot as he darted and dashed past, across, and behind the Drake defense.
Central defender Graham Smith was cool with the ball at his feet, and steady on defense as well, making great reads and straightforward tackles with ease. Smith confidently headed a loose ball in for a goal in the match against Drake to seal the game, showing that he can be a threat on both sides of the ball. The DU senior is certainly a player to watch with professional potential.
Scroll through our gallery of photos from the match below:
- Andre Shinyashiki presses the attack against Drake. John Babiak, @Photog_JohnB
- Alex Underwood will be one of the key central midfielders directing traffic and pulling strings for the Pios this season. John Babiak, @Photog_JohnB
- DU Coach Jamie Franks has done wonders with the team in his two years at the helm. John Babiak, @Photog_JohnB
- The success of this team may rest on the shoulders of Team Captain and defender Graham Smith. John Babiak, @Photog_JohnB
- Fullback Tosh Samkange (lower right), about to send a pass on to midfielder Jacob Stensson (#10). Mark Goodman, @rapidsrabbi
In addition to seeing all of the talented players and some great soccer, going to a DU game is also an opportunity to catch Rapids Academy players as they hone their craft for a shot at the Senior team. DU’s roster sports four Rapids Academy players, each of whom, if they can develop and impress Rapids Director of Soccer Development Brian Crookham and Interim General Manager Padraig Smith, could find themselves playing in front of 18,000 fans at DSGP before long. Freshman defender Bailey Heller, junior forward Eric Kronenberg, freshman midfielder Blake Moncur, and freshman forward Brooks Crawford are all likely to contribute to DU’s 2017 campaign.
DU matches are also an excellent soccer experience, overall. Tickets are either $8 or $10, there’s beer and concessions on sale close by to your seat, and the intimate stands and top-quality field make for a first-rate soccer experience. And you might see a local celebrity - Kort Ford was in front of me in line on Sunday night, and Dillon Serna was at the DU-Akron match two weeks ago to watch the Zips get beat 1-0. Serna played for one year at Akron before joining the Rapids in 2013.
It will also be exciting to watch DU hopefully march to an incredible fifth straight NCAA National tournament appearance, giving local Colorado soccer fans an experience of something that don’t often get to see at the professional level: a trip to the playoffs.
To learn more about the DU mens soccer team, check out their website and their schedule here.