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SSFC Spotlight: Cole Bassett growing with Colorado Rapids

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The midfielder is impressing in MLS.

Austin FC v Colorado Rapids Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images

Still a teenager for a few more months, Cole Bassett has positioned himself as one of the top young Americans in Major League Soccer. The 19-year-old Colorado Rapids midfielder recently scored the tying goal in a 3-2 win over Minnesota United, displaying his ever-burgeoning prowess in the final third. Already in the fourth season of his young career, he is pushing for a move to Europe and close to making his senior national team debut.

The “very focused and driven” Littleton, Colorado native never “had an interest in much else besides soccer” and was “so committed to being great.” After playing with the Colorado Rush youth club, Bassett joined the Colorado Rapids academy in 2017, competing with the U-17, U-19, and USL League Two U-23 teams. Upon becoming eligible for a Homegrown contract, the club signed “one of the most talented players in the country” to a four-and-a-half year deal. A month later, the high school student made his debut in a 2-0 loss to the Portland Timbers. In his first season, the 17-year-old had six appearances, scoring his first professional goal in the final match of the season against FC Dallas.

“I felt more comfortable and the game really slowed down for me,” Bassett told Burgundy Wave. “It also felt great to score because during all those games I really wanted to score… So to finally do it, especially against a huge [Development Academy] rival like FC Dallas, felt great.”

In his first full year as a pro, Bassett appeared in 21 total matches and scored two goals while juggling schoolwork demands. Following a training stint with the Arsenal U-23s, 2020 was a breakout season. During the COVID-shortened schedule, he contributed five goals and five assists in 15 appearances. His performance earned the supporters’ Most Valuable Player, the players’ Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year, and co-Golden Boot awards.

Now a veteran at the age of 19, Bassett has the opportunity to lift the Rapids to recently unreached heights before making the long-awaited move overseas. Since signing in 2018, Colorado has made the playoffs once, a first round exit in last year’s expanded first round. While not one of top performing or marquee development clubs in MLS, sometimes a less crowded environment provides more opportunity for growth. Playing in a less traveled scouting ground has certainly not harmed his transfer potential.

According to MLSSoccer.com, “multiple bids” from mid-table Bundesliga outfit SC Freiburg were rejected, failing to “match [Colorado’s] valuation.” Additionally, Hoffenheim, FC Lausanne-Sport of the Swiss Super League, and Austrian club Rapid Vienna have expressed interest. Writer Tom Bogert revealed that according to a source the trial with Arsenal would likely have resulted in an offer, “if not for visa/work permit hurdles.” His dream is to play in England “at some point in his career,” but he is learning German and told The Keeping It Simple Podcast that the Bundesliga “would be a very good league to make a jump to and try to develop over there.”

At the international level, Bassett has been an regular with the U.S. national team program in various age groups. His most notable performance came for the U-20 side in a January 2020 friendly against Mexico, scoring both goals in the 2-0 victory. Almost a year later, was called into the senior team for last December’s friendly against El Salvador but did not play.

Despite being included in the recent U-23 training camp, Bassett was curiously not named to the squad that failed to qualify for the Tokyo Games, a decision that reportedly was revealed on social media before the players learned their fates. “What Jason [Kreis] wanted was maybe a bit more defensive-minded than I think we should have gone with,” he told OneGoal. “I do think I could have helped a lot in the creativity part, helping us get goals and have more ideas in the attack. I obviously don’t get to make the decisions on who gets to play at the end of the day and sometimes you can’t always take the best players, you have to try to fit what your team wants.”

When the chance eventually does arrive, the USMNT will have a technical player capable of advancing the ball into the final third. Even as an amateur, he was noted for his ability to “drop back, find the game, [and] dictate the rhythm.” Initially a box-to-box midfielder that can play on the wing and in a more attacking role, Bassett has a nose for goal while covering the entire field. Praised for his driven mentality and “commitment to excellence,” his stated preference is to play as a more functional, late-arriving eight or ten, like “Frank Lampard and Kevin De Bruyne.”

Rapids manager Robin Fraser notes his growing “game intelligence,” naturally understanding which plays to make and how to find space. An area for improvement is strength and physicality. “When you’re up against some of the top class midfielders you have in this country, you’ve got to be able to physically dominate as well as being able to contribute from a tactical and technical perspective,” said Colorado GM Padraig Smith.

The MLS Homegrown program has started bear fruit at almost all of the league’s clubs, with Bassett helping to lead Colorado’s turnaround. While far from a finished product, he is set for a transfer overseas, which will provide a necessary challenge for the young midfielder who desires to play in a top league. Players are constantly rising and falling within the national team set-up, as the landscape shifts from one World Cup cycle to the next. With continued development and productive performances, his regular inclusion at the international level could come sooner than previously expected.