RYAN BACIC - Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Of Major League Soccer's 17 all-time Rookie of the Year winners, 16 have come from the college ranks. This season could bring one more.
Dillon Powers, after all, is making quite the name for himself in his first season with the Colorado Rapids after four highlight-reel years at Notre Dame. The central attacking midfielder, who leads all MLS rookies in minutes played, has started 18 games in 2013, scoring three goals and adding two assists in the process.
A levelheaded Powers, though, is managing to take it all in stride.
"I've been really fortunate to get an opportunity with Colorado," Powers told Yanks Abroad. "I think I'm in a great situation here with the team and the coaching staff. I'm just trying to use each game as an opportunity to continue to grow, and I feel like, especially the last few games, I've been able to come on and find my way a little bit."
And he's hardly the only one. A disappointing home draw to last-place DC United aside, the Rapids have been rolling as of late, responding to a three-game losing streak between June 16th and the 23rd with two straight wins.
The fashion in which they won those contests is perhaps the most impressive part.
On June 29th, Colorado trekked up to Montreal to take on the East-leading Impact, and what followed was an absolute barnburner. Atiba Harris opened the scoring at Stade Saputo in the 24th minute, but the hosts would respond with two goals of their own from there to make it 2-1 Montreal at the half.
But just before the hour mark, Powers got one back. Midfielder Nathan Sturgis served a low ball into the box from the right flank, and the rookie struck it cleanly first-time, beating Troy Perkins at the near post with a laser of a redirect.
It might sound hard to believe, then, when Powers notes that speed of play has been his biggest adjustment since breaking into MLS.
"That's something I think I expected more than anything," he said. "And then just the kind of demand of each game: Getting yourself ready for each game, having to really perform each game and not being able to take a game off.
"You kind of get punished if you come out with a subpar performance, so [you have to] be at your best for such a long season."
On that count for Powers, it's been so far, so good.
The one-time captain of the United States under-20 men's national team, Powers opted for a route much different than most players on this year's World Cup team: He exhausted his collegiate eligibility completely. Rather than start out on the bottom rung with a pro side, Powers found himself the brightest star in South Bend by some margin, rivaled only by talented striker Ryan Finley.
While that front-and-center role helped the Texan develop into a leader, though, it also created some habits that he's had to break himself of since turning pro.
"There are pluses and negative to both sides," Powers said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself to individually perform, and that can be hard, but I think each game I've learned that I'm a part of the team - it's a team effort. And that's taken some of the pressure off, being a part of a squad that's trying together."
The Rapids' unity was on full display in that matchup with the Impact, as Deshorn Brown and Tony Cascio recorded two late tallies to pull of the improbable 4-3 win in Montreal. A decisive 2-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls followed on the 4th of July, and suddenly Colorado appears as if it might be back to its winning ways.
Much of that has come from the first-year player who's pulling the strings in the final third.
Even in that dismal draw to D.C. United on Sunday, Powers shone. He woke up his team by forcing Joe Willis into a save in the 25th minute, then gave the Rapids perhaps their best chance of the game with a dangerous cross that Atiba Harris headed wide in the 59th.
The game may have ended 0-0, but Powers and Colorado kept pushing until that final whistle. And as the side's Notre Dame maestro made clear, they're not done yet.
"You kind of feel that collective belief again," Powers said. "It's still a really tight race, and we're just trying to grind out some results. We expect to be in the playoffs at the end of the year."