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Former U.S. U-20 defender O’Neill weighing Ireland switch



The 2013 season has been one of exceeding expectations for Colorado Rapids defender Shane O’Neill.

In his first full year of professional soccer after inking a homegrown contract with the Rapids last June, O’Neill has gone from a talented youngster to a bona fide starter in the club’s backline since late March when he made his starting debut.

O’Neill also featured in the U.S. Under-20 squad this summer in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Turkey, and though the U.S. failed to advance, his performances domestically and for the USA have caught the eye of his birth nation, Ireland.

The 20-year-old defender was born in Midleton, Republic of Ireland, but at the age of one moved to Boulder, Colorado with his family. Though he’s currently in the U.S. Soccer set up and would have to file a one-time switch to play for Ireland, O’Neill said that he’s weighing his international playing options.

“I think it’s just whoever gives me the opportunity,” O’Neill told “I’d want to play for both; I think I said last week I’d be excited to play for Ireland but I’d also be really happy to play for the U.S., so you know, either way.”

O’Neill admitted that Ireland Under-21 head coach Noel King contacted him last year to see if he wanted to play for “The Green Army,” and he conducted a number of interviews last week with Irish radio stations, where he reportedly expressed his interest in potentially playing alongside LA Galaxy forward Robbie Keane in the Ireland squad.

“Obviously at this point it’s just all up in the air,” O’Neill said. “Nothing written, nothing set in stone or anything like that, so I’m just kind of weighing my options.”

Though circumstances can change, at the senior national team level, the centerbacks for the U.S. Men’s National Team are relatively young as Omar Gonzalez is soon to be 25-years-old, Matt Besler is 26-years-old, and new commit John Brooks is just 20-years-old. All this has happened while head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has phased out veterans like Carlos Bocanegra, 34, and Oguchi Onyewu, 32.

Meanwhile, Ireland, who crashed out of World Cup qualification on September 10 with a loss on the road to Austria, are now not only looking for a new head coach but also a new backline, with Richard Dunne and John O’Shea each in the latter stages of their careers and unlikely to be heavily involved in Ireland’s squad ahead of qualification for Euro 2016.

In his breakout campaign, O’Neill has started 20 of 22 games for the Rapids alongside veteran Drew Moor in the middle, including 12 consecutive starts since returning from the U-20 World Cup at the end of June.


What do you think of this report? Do you see O’Neill sticking with the U.S. or switching to Ireland? Do you believe that losing O’Neill would be a big blow to the USA’s depth?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. there is only one reason. He can only be trying to pressure JK to go to 2014 Brazil… aint gonna happen kid….

    if anything, his chances are with the US for the 2016 Gold Cup or 2017 EUFA Cup.

    he’s young, good defender with promising potential… however, yapping about his desires wont help him with the average USMNT fan.

  2. He was brought up N.American but feels Irish, hey all power to him… It must be a tough decision having all these 1st & 2nd generation Irish people in the U.S pressuring him to join their native country… Psshhh lol Lame .. Bye bye enjoy the U.K buddy

  3. Good player. His choice but I hope he chooses to stick with the US. He will absolutely be in the frame for 2018 WC. I hope somebody impresses upon him that the USA will almost certainly be there and Ireland almost certainly will not. They have a pretty mediocre side and a very mediocre pipeline at the moment, not to mention a much harder path (even to the Euros).

    His choice, and maybe playing at a WC has nothing to do with it. But one of the few youngsters I absolutely expect to be in the frame for selection over the next decade, so I hope we get him.

    • people are saying “his choice”. he is saying “whoever wants me”

      if in the next few months, US says they prefer brooks, gonzo, besler, cameron and orozco – by calling them and not oneill, why would oneill figure he has a great shot at starting in 2018? none of those guys will “age out” in the next cycle

      pretty simple decision here – call whoever you think are your top 3 CBs besides cameron. call cameron (as your “utility” slot). and call oneill.

      why would we need to go beyond that at CB?

      what am i missing?

      • “US says they prefer brooks, gonzo, besler, cameron and orozco – by calling them and not oneill, why would oneill figure he has a great shot at starting in 2018? none of those guys will “age out” in the next cycle”
        2 of the 5 players listed could actually be “aged out during the 2018 cycle. Cameron – 29 in 2014, 33 in 2018 Orozco – 28 in 2014, 33 in 2018.
        The bigger question for O’Neill is does he want to try and compete with Brooks, Packwood, Zimmerman, etc….in the next cycle for the US. If he doesn’t feel like he can match up with them….than he should choose Ireland.

      • what, exactly, is the argument for not giving oneill a chance to compete for a top 4 CB spot, especially when cameron is a CM option who will likely not occupy a CB spot?

        he only has one year of pro experience?

      • There are a lot of kids who deserve that call up equally. We can’t start calling in players out of a fear of loss. We did that with Teal Burnaby. That only hampered that kids career. He should be starting for Canada right now and bettering himself. You bring in players who are ready and deserve it. If a player is in your plans but not in the next year, be honest with the kid and let him make the best decision for himself.

      • I hope the “age out” thing is just that, someones view rather than a policy, if a player is good enough he should be able to bump anyone out at any giving time he is deemed ready. Being young and getting close to a WC year is going to be tough.
        If I was him, I would do my best and move beyond MLS, if he is still top of his class then he should get a chance to bump someone out.

    • Right now Ireland can field a starting XI with, let’s say, nine solid Premier League starters to go along with McGeady and Keane. Not bad at all. Trapattoni made some questionable personnel decisions, and injuries have kept some key players off the field. Ireland is not bad at all. Tough qualifying group this time around. I agree with you that the pipeline is looking weak, but you never know what players born in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England will “become” Irish.

  4. As others have stated the US has benefited from dual nationals picking the US. I won’t begrudge him one bit if he picks Ireland.

    The USMNT has quite a few up and coming CB’s i.e. Hedges, Okugo, Zimmerman, Brooks, Packwood, Miazga, so I can see why he would like to keep his options open. If Packwood and Zimmerman don’t get injured O’Neill would have been the 4th CB option down the U-20 CB depth chart as well. He has talent, but he isn’t the only young talented CB in the USMNT pipeline.

    • Remember at the youth World Cup where everyone was freaking out because the US was going without their supposed best young defenders? Remember how O’neill wound up being the break through player? No way we let him go

      • He would have been an after thought if Packwood, Zimmerman, and Brooks were on the team. Like I stated he would have been option 4 out of those 4.

      • I’m going by an interview I read with Przegląd Sportowy. As long as he plays with NYRB, playing for the US youth teams is simply easier. Plus, his situation is similar to the one O’Neill is facing. Poland has glaring holes at CB and not a whole lot in the pipeline. A Polish soccer analyst said something along the lines of “He’ll play for us.”

        Side note: Imagine Sports Illustrated covering U-17 soccer. That will be the day.

  5. this will be a lot for folks to handle, so hang on..

    oneill is already better than goodson, gonzo and besler. short on experience, sure, but a better pure CB with easily the best upside FOR BRAZIL

    colorado GA with oneill (20 starts): .75 gpg (15 goals in 20 games)
    GA without oneill starting: 1.60 gpg (16 goals against in 10 games)

    colorado’s record in oneills 20 starts: 10-8-2 (W-T-L) = 1.79 ppg (better than seattle)
    with oneill not starting: 2-1-7 = .87 ppg (chivas usa is at .84)

    and he just turned 20 y/o

    besler has not even been starting recently for SKC

    anyone who think oneill is just another MLS CB has no clue what they are talking about. oneill should be brought into camp now and be given an opportunity to make the team

    • Absolutely. Solid CB. Dispite all of the injuries CO has had this year our back line of Klute-Moor-ONeill-Wynne has been rock solid; with Oneill a vital part.

      As for the national team; we have won more of these duel nationals than we have lost reciently and id say he has an equal shot at caps as any of the other cb’s. id put him in that categorie with yedlin, villareal, gatt, gil, that should get a january camp look after this season

      I cant speak for ireland but id wait until after a jan camp b4 deciding

    • I get what you’re trying to do, but simplistically pointing out the number of goals allowed in a game when he plays vs. doesn’t play really doesn’t mean much. Who were the opponents? Was anyone else missing on those games?

      O’neill is good, but acting like he is solely responsible for the above stats are silly.

      • i think 20 games with / 10 without is a pretty decent sample size

        especially when you consider that colorado was also terrible without oneill last year – 1.47 GA/g, 1.09 ppg

        any other “young” player besides brooks is a prospect right now. people like to ignore the fact that very few prospects pan out as legit USMNT caliber players.

        it would be great to have 20 more games for colorado under his belt. but WC is in june and oneill deserves an OPPORTUNITY to be on that team

      • I get what you are trying to say but the +, – stat is far more relevant in hockey.

        Each individual there is far more impactful

        In soccer there are nearly twice as many players.

        Also, it’s hilarious that no one here is calling O’Neill, who is clearly at least an opportunist, a traitor like they did Rossi.

  6. He’s NOT going to Brazil w/ the US or Ireland, so if playing in a WC is his main goal, he is vying for something 5 years down the road. A lot will happen and change between now and then with his level of play, his competition and who is managing both teams. There are no 5 month guarantees let alone 5 years and the expectation to not have competition w/i any team is pure folly. Although the US CB depth looks MUCH better than it did a year ago, it’s not littered with other-world, unbreakable talent either…. just quality players to push/make you better at your job. He won’t be inked in a WC roster at Ireland either. Players will emerge in 5 years and Irelands shot of going is less guaranteed than the USA’s.

    Lets be honest though, there are other things driving most of these decisions and I don’t begrudge this in the least. Truth is, WC was never a “pure” competition and the world is changing, getting smaller and interdependent by the day. The game is changing too. The more big money that is involved, motivations and the weight of decisions change. Players will all pay lip service / pay homage to the flag and the honor of putting on the shirt, but more and more, international play is seen and IS a showcase in which to promote professional careers. Believe it.

    • Actually, with the Euros looming in 2016 Shane’s answer will come sooner than expected. It’s a smaller window than you think . As soon as the WC concludes, UEFA will start qualification for the Euros. Of course, Shane will have to file a one-time switch in order to play for Ireland but if there is a window of opportunity the Irish might want to step up their pursuit. At the end of the day, the US has a leg up due to Shane being provisionally cap-tied. I think he will get his chance with the US. I think there’s an outside chance it could come in January but realistically it will be after the WC. As a Rapids STH, I am just elated for Shane. He deserves to have the US and Ireland battle it out. The kid is quickly rising. Some of it’s due to circumstance, but most of it has to do with Shane knuckling down and putting max effort into his potential and development. He’s the consummate professional and he will be a very good CB.

  7. As a Rapids fan, I get to watch him week in and week out. For those saying that xxxx young MLS defender is better/has more potential, it’s likely you haven’t seen O’Neill play much.

    He’s a converted striker & midfielder, is very good at taking the ball away from people, and pushing into the attack with the ball at his feet, instead of being one of those stiff CB’s that have to find a safe outlet every time they get the ball.

    He’s pretty much the prototype CB that Klinsmann has been talking about for the U.S.

    It’s Shane’s decision, but I certainly hope he plays for the U.S. Stay patient, young Jedi, this cycle is not yours.

  8. I would like to have him in the USMNT set up in a few years, but honestly I’m more excited about okugo, brooks, packwood, Jean-Baptiste and Zimmerman in 2022

  9. It’s his choice to make, but it sounds to me like he’s trying to leverage his position to gain attention. He’s not the first and there is nothing wrong with it.

    • I dont think so. Klinsmann may well get an extention on his contract with USMNT and it is well known that he favors Bundesliga players and O’Neill will have no chance. He might get call ups to fill in for Brooks when Brooks cant play for whatever reason but at the end of the day, Brooks will be starting in Russia.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if the Irish Fed pushed the interviews to get him to go public with this. By putting it out there, he gets pressure from both sides and a chance to talk openly about the choice. They can make it seem to be a better move as he’ll have to make the difficult action of filing paperwork.

  10. It would suck if this happened because he is a young talent with a lot of potential, but who could fault him? Ireland need to rebuild and he’d be a part of that. At least the Irish are competitive. It’d also help him get a move to Europe.

    • naw….this would be good news if U.S. soccer was at the point of developing national team players for other countries. It’s starting to happen more and more (Rossi, Kamara, Najar, etc.)

  11. A reverse Johannsson situation – equally ridiculous too. International football is devalued by these attempts to recruit far-flung players with tenuous connections and players’ willingness to play international football for who ever will give them the chance.

    • Well he is legitimately Irish – his parents are Irish. Unlike Johannsson who was simply born in the US to Icelandic parents.

      • AJ could be president; O’Neill couldn’t. Everyone is entitled to their opinion as what an American is, but until FIFA changes the rules and USA changes their immigration laws, your Americans plus these other Americans will be on our national team and you/me will have to accept that fact. The same can be said for other countries. The true devaluation of nationality comes from countries that change their immigration laws or waive their immigration laws in order to get a soccer player on their national team. Qatar, Slovakia, Japan and others– I’m talking to you now.

      • Spain, Portugal as well. A lot of countries have done it. It all depends on the countries citizenship rules.

      • Spain didn’t bend their citizenship rules. Their regular rules just happen to make it especially easy for Latin Americans to become naturalized Spanish citizens. Most of the pro soccer players who become naturalized Spanish citizens do so not to play for Spain (because many are cap-tied already), but to get a EU passport.

      • Japan hasn’t done it. All the Brazilians who have played for Japan either lived in Japan for at least 8 years prior to becoming citizens, or were of Japanese descent. The other non-ethnic-Japanese players were all born in Japan.

      • no-one is arguing that he is not a qualified citizen. accept the fact that some people see nationality as something more substantial than national citizenry paperwork, especially in the context of appearing for the national team. a player like fagundez is much more “american” than johannason in american soccer terms.

      • “no-one is arguing that he is not a qualified citizen. accept the fact that some people see nationality as something more substantial than national citizenry paperwork, especially in the context of appearing for the national team. a player like fagundez is much more “american” than johannason in american soccer”

        Think I’ll just accept the idea that some people are clueless.

    • “International football is devalued”

      Not really.

      National teams are something of a phony made up construct.

      Although, actually, you need to have a valid American passport to play for the USMNT while you don’t to fight and die for the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
      As far as I’m concerned the US military is far more relevant to American nationality than some soccer team.

      Until 2004 FIFA allowed a player to represent any national team, as long as the player held citizenship of that country.

      Alfredo Di Stefano, arguably the greatest player of all time, was capped by Argentina, Colombia and Spain. The legendary Puskas played for Hungary and Spain and the great Barcelona forward Laszlo Kubala, who was born in Hungary, played for Czechoslovakia first, then Hungary and then Spain. And there are lots of other examples most notably Joe Gaetjens how played for both Haiti and the US.

      The thing is the US has among the strictest citizenship eligibility requirements of any country, so it wasn’t always as “convenient” for athletes as some other countries.

      For example, AJ is American by an accident of birth in that he had nothing to say about where he was born but that is also true about anyone born on US soil. Perhaps even you.

      In 2004, in reaction to the growing trend towards naturalization of foreign players in some countries, FIFA implemented the new rules you hate so much. While you get a lot of the dual national situations we are all so familiar with the new rules are actually more stringent than their predecessors.

      • FYI: you don’t have to be an American citizen to join the US military.
        A non-citizen can enlist in the military. However, federal law prohibits non-citizens from becoming commission or warrant officers.
        In order for a non-citizen to enlist in the military, he/she must first be a legal immigrant (with a green card), permamently residing in the United States. It’s important to note that the military cannot and will not assist in the immigration process. One must immigrate first, using normal immigration quotas and procedures, and — once they’ve established an address in the United States — they can find a recruiter’s office and apply for enlistment.

      • Thank you for the detail.

        Isn’t it ironic? You can fight and die for the US military but not be eligible to play for the US soccer team.

  12. he can do as he pleases… on one hand he has a chance to play in at least three World Cups, on the other he has a chance of finishing 3rd in WCQ in Europe every cycle and maybe one Euro championship (maybe)….

    I’ll take FJ, AJ, JJ, Brooks and Corona in a dual national trade for this guy

  13. Middleton… I have had whiskey from Middleton that is a lot older than this kid. If he’s as good as that stuff, he’s going to be a star.

  14. Ireland looks like the smart move for him. He’s behind a logjam at centerback in the US, and Ireland will be looking to rebuild now. If the new coach, possibly another O’Neill, gives him a chance, he could be involved in Euro 2016 qualification. Good luck to him.

  15. Can’t complain too much since we’ve now benefited from dual citizenship.

    But I wonder, Shane, which team is more likely to play you in a World Cup? Hmmm…

  16. The Kid is only 21 and he wants a crack at the senior team? For that to happen he needs to move to a better league. I don’t think Brooks would have gotten the opportunity if he wasn’t playing in BL1

    • Two guys ahead of him on the depth chart right have only played in MLS…Besler and Gonzales. And Goodson is back in MLS.

      • Debunks that league argument…. and this kid is just 20 so by the time he hits Gonzo and Besler’s age he could be in Europe. As its been stated we have benefitted from the Dual National option. If the kid picks Ireland he picks Ireland, isn’t like he has been overlooked and ignored by the US setup…..

      • No, it doesn’t.

        “The Kid is only 21 and he wants a crack at the senior team? For that to happen he needs to move to a better league.”

        A 21-year-old MLS centerback isn’t going to get called up to the national team. A 21-year-old centerback in the Bundesliga can, and a 25 or 26 year old in MLS can also. But the combination of youth and the lower quality of play in MLS really lowers the probability of a young centerback being called up.

      • He isn’t necessarily pushing for full NT, but he’s being tugged to Ireland for U21s and that means he would have to give up any chance for USMNT. With no other youth comps for the US, it’s either full NT or nothing. He’s being asked to make a decision that he would like to not make for a while.

    • The other options are young but not necessarily great. Hence the whole discussion we’ve been having for months. If he’s afraid of a little competition……


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