With all the homegrown talent the Colorado Rapids have brought through Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in recent years, many forget that Collen Warner was a bit of a wayward native. Warner finally find his way back to Denver and is enjoying Colorado’s stellar 2021 season in his old stomping grounds.
After leaving the state to play at the University of Portland, Warner’s professional journey took over 10 years through MLS and Europe before bringing himself back to family and friends where it all started. “Not everybody gets to do that for sure,” Warner tells Burgundy Wave of his return to Colorado in 2020. “It’s been a one-of-a-kind experience for me.”
“It kind of coincided with a lot of full-circle events you would say. My brother lived in Manhattan (NY) and he moved back with his wife, so my whole immediate family is here, which it hasn’t been like that since I left for college. That was really, really nice to have them out to some games,” he says.
From watching this same team in the early years to following in a Rapids legend’s footsteps, Warner seems very content in where his path has led him as of late. “I’ve grown up watching Rapids games, coming to the games fairly often, then going to (Denver) East High School, and playing for the (Colorado) Rush. I saw Conor Casey come back and get to play here and I thought that was great when I was watching it, but it’s really different when you get to re-establish your roots.”
Getting back to his roots wasn’t a clear-cut career path for sure. ”I had a few offers before I went to Denmark to play USL, but I played for a really interesting club over there, FC Helsingør, owned by a US guy now. I kind of followed a dream to go play up there and that put me in a little bit more precarious situation because I didn’t renew and the season ended in the middle of the European thing.” Warner admits things really lined up after his stint in Denmark in a strange set of global circumstances to bring him back as an integral bit of depth in HC Robin Fraser’s midfield.
In fact, Warner says he was looking at a post-playing future when he returned stateside and the possibility of a spot in an academy or elsewhere in MLS. “My family was really involved. I spent a year at home thinking about retiring, thinking about transitioning out of soccer, taking interviews meeting with some of the GMs I’d previously worked with.”
“At the time it was reality, but it was also I felt reassured through that process because like Robin, there was a lot of other good relationships that I had made that I took for granted. When I needed a leg up looking for something interesting that would suit my passion and revisiting random conversations reconnecting with people. It was a difficult time, but also really great and I’m happy it turned out the way it did.”
Warner joined in the strange year that was 2020 and says that as challenging a season as it was, the landscape provided him an opportunity to remain “home” doing what he loves to do. “For all the struggles the pandemic has brought, without that I don’t think I would’ve been picked back up. It’s definitely put limitations on what kind of options the teams could sign.”
Collen has been a Rapids fan, he knows what many of us have gone through, but he also feels things are going in a great direction for those that take notice. “I’ve always had friends that live here but getting re-involved in the soccer community, it’s such a great soccer community, in Colorado. The diehard fans know how special a team this is, but for rest of the city I don’t think it’s been recognized as much just how good this team is. You have Kellyn (Acosta) away with the national team, you’ve got Mark (Anthony Kaye), the young talent – Johnny (Lewis), (Sam) Vines when he was here – I can’t think back at another time when there was this much talent — and local talent — so it’s been nice.”
For his part, Warner has confided in the other Colorado veterans and is trying to be flexible and open to whatever is asked of him while relying on the experience gained with five other MLS sides thus far. “I’ve been on a lot of clubs that have been transitioning from being out of the playoffs to making the playoffs, but I’d never been on a club that was transitioning from making playoffs trying to become a perennial contender. In practicality that’s just watching a lot of tape, taking in as much information and be as flexible as I can, and stay ready because with my role in the team it’s not always going to be starting.”
“There’s plenty of things for me to do, training every day, when I do get the chance to start how to be ready, really there’s just so much good conversations that go on between me (Steven) Beita(shour), Drew (Moor), (Jack) Pricey.”
When asked about a common thread amongst the Rapids players and coaches, Warner explained why this Rapids side has been able to ride the waves of success and tough times the last couple of years. “Buying in to me means at the end of the day you’re going to put the team ahead of yourself,” he explains. “What’s great about this team is nobody is shy about voicing their opinion. We have a lot of different characters in the side, a lot of different attackers, they’re going to have differences of opinion. What I love is at the end of the day they’re willing to support the team and once the conversation’s over they’ll leave it and be ready to play and support their teammates.”
“It’s never perfect keeping 23 guys happy, but I think it’s great a high-character standard. Guys show their frustration the right way, and if they are Robin keeps an open door so he’s very open with his communication. You can have success in a lot of different ways and this team knows what we’re good at and knows how to get the best out of everyone.”