This past off-season, Younes Namli became the Colorado Rapids’ lone Designated Player. Coming from Russian Premier League side FC Krasnodar, the 25-year-old from Copenhagen, Denmark, has seen action in Europe’s Champions and Europa League competitions; however, it was his family’s love of football that led him to MLS and the Rapids.
“(Soccer) was in the family already—my uncle played. When I grew up, me and my father went to his games sometimes, and my father gave me a ball… it was just something I fell in love with from the first day I could kick the ball,” Namli tells Burgundy Wave. “That’s what we did to keep ourselves busy, because I grew up with a lot of boys from a lot of cultures, and to stay away from trouble as well.”
Namli continued pursuing his love of soccer all the way to the professional level while his friends moved on to other interests. “I was quite young when I started, I’d just turned 17, so as a young kid you’re just trying to earn your spot,” he explains.
A younger Namli began his career with the then-First Division Danish club Akademisk Boldklub and getting his first minutes against mature professionals. “I started the first game I was in the squad,” Namli recalls. “It went fast, so I just tried to bring a little bit of the street mentality. Some young guys come into a team and they get nervous, start panicking, but for me it was just about enjoying the game.”
“I played there until I was 19 and I moved to Holland. When I moved there, it was a whole new world: everything was bigger. The league was bigger and it was the first time for me to live away from my parents. It was tough in the beginning because you don’t have your friends and family anymore, you’re suddenly alone in the house. I’m really a family guy so when I didn’t play soccer, I was always home with my family or did something with my family.”
Fast-forward to 2020 and a confident Namli has already made his mark, scoring his first MLS goal in just his second match for Colorado on a surgical run through traffic and a pinpoint strike to take the lead against Orlando City SC.
“Stylistically, he’s different. His goal is an example of what makes him a little bit different,” said Head Coach Robin Fraser following the game against Orlando. “His ability to dribble and scoot by people, he’s got great timing, he can unbalance people, he’s a really close dribbler, which makes him really hard to tackle and I think his goal was an example of his best qualities. His ability to be elusive and to glide and scoot through a couple of guys and then finish.”
Namli strives to be a player capable of brilliance even though it might not always come along easily or often, saying, “I’m a type of player that likes to be creative, and that comes with risk of course, but I’m just doing my thing every game. Sometimes you’ll lose the ball, but all players lose the ball, all good players take risk in their way of playing.”
As far as how Namli ended up in Colorado, he says he likes the things the Rapids Front Office has in mind for the future and how they’d like to achieve success going forward. “The ambition was the most important part because I’m an ambitious guy too. I didn’t just come here to enjoy the life in America because it’s a nice country to live in. I came to compete, win games, and hopefully we can achieve something special with this group.”
“The trust they gave me since day one was special and that’s only getting better now when I get more fit,” he adds. “I play with risk, and as long as the connection with the team is good, it will be no problem.”
Fraser has noted that connection has already developed due to Namli’s willingness and ability to be a good teammate. “I think we have good chemistry in this team,” recognizes Namli. “That’s what’s going to bring us forward—it’s not about me, about individual players, it’s about what we do together.”
“We need each other to win games, that’s just a fact. We’re all different kinds of players but to win games and be at our highest level we need each other,” Namli explains. “The difference between success or failure is the mentality we’re going to bring. We have a lot of talent, got good young players, got experienced players, we’ve got a deep squad, so it’s all about mentality. If we’re ready to sacrifice everything, every game, it’s going to be a great season. If not, we’re going to have a bad season.”
When Fraser took over to end the 2019 season, it was immediately obvious that the players could rally around each other and continue to fight for the squad, instead of individual accolades. Namli could see this from the outset of his time with his new side in pre-season. “When I came the first day I felt this was really a team—they stick together through everything, they fight for each other.”
“That’s the most difficult part to build in a team and we’ve already got that,” he says. “So now, we just need the confidence of playing. We’ve got quality, and that’s hopefully what I’ll bring a little bit is to just stay calm and be confident, because if we play with confidence, we’ll be able to beat anybody.”
So far in 2020 they have, going 2-0-0 for the just the third time in club history. However, Namli has been around the block, and even at his young age has seen the pressures and challenges of top-tier sport around this game. “We started really well, but the most difficult thing in sports—you see it in every league—is to be consistent. I’ve been in other competitions, we have more guys that are experienced: Drew [Moor], Kei [Kamara], [Jack] Pricey, so we need to help each other and help the younger guys.”
“I always say, ‘enjoy the game, that’s why you started because you like it and you have fun with it’. If you start panicking or get nervous, you’re not in the right sport,” Namli says. “We’re all blessed to have this as work, so that’s what you need to remind yourself before every game and every practice. That doesn’t mean you can just chill and do whatever you want, but hard work sticks.”