Following a hectic SuperDraft weekend that added new blood to the Rapids’ roster ahead of their 2019 campaign, the Rapids held a special event Tuesday to announce the signing of two homegrown players: Matt Hundley and Sam Raben. The Colorado natives join Dillon Serna, Kortne Ford, Cole Bassett, and Sam Vines as Rapids academy alumni on contract with the first team.
“I’m feeling ecstatic,” Hundley beamed following the press conference, “It’s a dream come true. Being in my hometown to start my professional career is incredible.”
Raben was similarly enthusiastic about the next step in his career. “The more and more I do with the team, the more I get excited,” the versatile defender explained, I’ve been doing some pre-preseason workouts with the strength coach, Chad [Kolarcik], and it’s just really cool to see all the players – all the players I looked up to – come in and do the same things as me. It’s surreal.”
The Colorado homegrowns return to the Centennial State after stints in the NCAA – Hundley, 18, spent one year as a standout attacker in southern California with UCLA, while Raben, 21, anchored Wake Forest’s back-line for four years.
For Rapids Head Coach Anthony Hudson, the signings represent another step in the right direction for a club starved of success.
“I think the young players are the lifeblood of the team,” the English manager told Rapids Republic, “I think when you come into a club there is so much to do, so much to build, and I think towards the end of [last] season we really started to really come together in terms of our culture.”
Building a youth-oriented team is vital to Colorado’s rebuild. Six out of the eight outfield players signed so far by the club in the 2019 Primary Transfer Window are currently under the age of twenty-six (with more on the way if Colorado offers terms to the draftees currently on trial with the club).
“When we went into the off-season,” Hudson continued, “The value in terms of building a core and bringing younger players through that know Colorado, that are from Colorado – that know what it means to play for the club […] that was the most important thing [for us].”
Hundley and Raben are confident in their ability to prove themselves to their coach and work for place in the first team.
“Honestly, I’m just hoping to be extremely consistent in practice, show that I deserve to be here,” Raben explained. While the defender primarily occupied the center back role when playing in Winston-Salem, he believes his manager should decide where he fits best in the 4-4-2 Diamond: “It’s up to Hudson where he puts me on the field.”
Raben – modest though he may be – has had an impressive developmental career both in Colorado and in his time out of state. The defender was a mainstay in every environment he participated in: Raben captained the Colorado Rapids U-23 side that topped the Premier Development League’s Mountain Division in 2018, finished his career at Wake Forest tied for third-most starts in school history, and made consistent appearances in Colorado’s academy teams.
While Raben has made a name for himself for his defensive prowess, Hundley has impressed in the final third. After the 2017-18 academy season, the forward was named to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Best XI. During his sole year in College, Hundley led UCLA in goals, assists, and shots on target. Additionally, during the Summer of 2018, Hundley scored the goal that clinched that aforementioned Mountain Division title.
When asked to describe his style of play, the U.S. Youth International commented, “I just like to get on the ball, take people on, and create opportunities for myself and my teammates.”
Quite a few players stand in-between the homegrowns and first team play, but Cole Bassett demonstrated at the tail end of 2018 that it is fully possible for academy players to force themselves into the Rapids’ matchday squad if the right circumstances arise. Whether the academy alumni end up in Colorado’s starting eleven or down south with the Switchbacks, Hudson believes that Hundley and Raben have “good talent” and made it clear that the path to the first team is there if they can earn it.
Image Credit: Colorado Rapids