by Mark Asher Goodman
A few months ago, the Rapids were holding training inside DSGP, and so the media were gathered on the east side of the stands, in the shade to avoid the sun of a hot June morning in Colorado, alongside the electronic hoardings. Being inside DSGP is a little different than being on field 23 - the players and coaches aren’t separated from the writers and TV folks by a chain-link fence wrapped in black tarpaulin. It allows for a smidge more access.
And so, before training started, head coach Anthony Hudson sauntered over to say hi. Without much ado, the coach looked over at a lanky young academy kid who was training with the senior team and said ‘Keep your eye on that one. Cole Bassett. He’s going to be special.’
Just two months later, Bassett was signed to a senior contract, making him the youngest Rapids Homegrown player in club history.
There’s nothing more exciting, or terrifying, then turning the bright lights on a young academy kid and hoping they can be the savior. If every DP signing is held up to the lofty barometer of David Beckham or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, then every Academy player is measured against Matt Miazga or DeAndre Yedlin. But while it’s perfectly ok to turn to a disappointing millionaire footballer like Giovanni Dos Santos or Shkelzen Gashi and call them a bust, it’s a lot dicier to say that about a soccer player who only just starting shaving a month ago.
That said, I remember broaching that topic - of heaping pressure and attention on a youngster too early - to Senior Director of Soccer Development Brian Crookham. And Brian said something to the effect of: ‘Yeah, but they need to get exposed to pressure, and learn how to deal with it.’
There’s no magic formula to what separates a budding professional football from your everyday high-level player. There’s the technical skills, and the physical abilities, of course. But attitude and mentality are a big part of it too.
Erik Bushey, the Rapids Development Academy Program Director and U23 and U17 head coach, had a big hand in Cole Bassett’s development in the past few years. He thinks there are a few key attributes to look for in a kid that can predict success. Erik told me, “In a younger player, you’re looking for someone that has something in him that doesn’t allow him to quit. Who isn’t afraid to try and fail. Those things perhaps trump everything else. That means their ceiling is going to be higher.”
In addition to the overall observations of an academy, there is the additional flaovr of what the Colorado Rapids are looking for in a player. “What’s important here is, are they effective and impactful on both sides of the ball?”
We have only seen the first glimpses of what Cole Bassett can do. I’d seen him play three times with the U23’s this summer before he was called up, and my notes on him were straightforward. ‘Good motor - covers a lot of ground.’ ‘Head on a swivel, always aware.’ ‘Excellent passer - receives and unloads quickly and decisively.’ ‘Doesn’t hit the ball hard - not (yet) a scoring threat.’ In short, the kid most reminded me of Sacha Kljestan. A midfield string-puller.
More importantly, he looks like a guy that is willing to try and fail.
And he’s begun to show all of those traits in just the very early knockings of his pro career.
To illustrate who Cole Bassett is, I’m gonna link to five moments in his first couple games which nicely illustrate what Cole can do. Click on the link, and a new window will pop open with the gif.
1) Rapids v LAFC, October 6, 89th min. The sweet shimmy-and-dish.
Bassett likes to be central and use a move; a swim, an in-step cut, or a shimmy; to open up a new angle. Here, he makes that move and threads the ball through to players to find Marlon Hairston in space. Heads up play, and with confidence.
2) Rapids v MNUFC, October 13, 27th minute. Keep moving, make a tough play.
Cole has a routine tackle, but after he makes it he runs into space for Yannick Boli to play a ball that’s a little awkward. Boli is hacked down, but Bassett deals with the funky pass and plays it on. The technical skills are there.
3) Rapids v MNUFC, 30th minute. Be the perfect pivot for the one-two.
4) Rapids v MNUFC, 45+1. Take-on and shot.
Eric Miller is one of the better defensive right backs in Major League Soccer. Cole Bassett does not care, and beats him with a slick fake.
5) Rapids v MNUFC, 47’. Threading more needles with one touch.
CB's first key pass! They grow up so fast...
I think this limited portfolio gives you a great representative sample of who Cole Bassett is. He’s a pass-and-move connector with excellent touch. He shows for the ball often. If I were a video editor, I could have had a field day splicing together all the times he runs into a gap and splays his hands out in an expression of ‘give me the ball!’, and Jack Price noted the same thing last month when he said of Bassett "He’s demanding – he wants the ball. If he wants to get in this team that’s what he’s got to do. I thought he was outstanding when he came on.”
And when Cole gets the ball, he unloads it fast and in the vicinity. He typically doesn’t slam long bombs when a sure-thing pass to the right guy can maintain possession.
He’s well positioned in defense, but tackling and pouncing into passing lanes isn’t his primary asset, at least, not yet. But right now what we’ve got is high school junior to be technically proficient, clever with the ball, with a good sense of off-the-ball moment and getting into space.
I know a lot of folks have been rolling their eyes at the team’s pronouncement of the ‘Rapids Way’. But if you’re looking for someone with a ‘high soccer IQ’, with ‘boldness and urgency’, and ‘with an instinct to drive seek out the line breaking pass’, I don’t think you could do much better than the lanky 17-year-old from Littleton, Colorado.