O’Brien makes a name for himself in Rapids’ MLS opener against Beckham

Players, coaches and referees around Federal Way and the South Puget Sound League know that Ciaran O’Brien can be a little “testy” on the soccer field. Now Major League Soccer (MLS) also has a pretty good idea about O’Brien’s aggressive playing style.

The 2006 Decatur High School graduate was the fifth overall pick in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft by the Colorado Rapids after playing last season at the University of California-Santa Barbara.

The rookie midfielder had an memorable debut in his first MLS regular season game Saturday night against the star-studded Los Angeles Galaxy in Colorado. O’Brien came on as a second-half substitute for the Rapids, but was eventually sent back to the bench in the game’s closing minutes for a hard foul on Galaxy forward Carlos Ruiz.

O’Brien came on in the 71st minute of the impressive 4-0 Colorado win. Nine minutes later, O’Brien made a sliding challenge on Ruiz, who went down clutching his knee.

Following the tackle, Los Angeles midfielder Landon Donovan, the international star and America’s all-time leading scorer, ran in and pushed O’Brien in the chest and put a hand to his throat before other players intervened and separated the two. One of those “other players” just happened to be Galaxy midfielder David Beckham.

As medics came on to stretcher Ruiz off the field, referee Abby Okulaja sent off O’Brien for the hard tackle.

“It’s a little bit of a bummer that had to happen in the end, but that’s the way it goes,” O’Brien told the Denver Post. “It’s probably not smart on my part to do a tackle like that with two minutes to go.”

O’Brien was also in the middle of another incident just a few minutes earlier when Galaxy defender Abel Xavier, already with a yellow card, sent O’Brien sprawling with a lunging tackle from behind. As the referee moved in to deal with the foul, Xavier went crazy and was sent off for abusive language.

“I’m finding it hard not to criticize some of the decisions tonight, but I’ve just been told I’ll be fined if I do,” Beckham told USA Today after the game. “I don’t want that to happen. Referees have a tough job, but some decisions change games, and that’s happened tonight.”

The red card against Los Angeles will also mean that O’Brien won’t be in the lineup tonight when the Rapids play their second MLS regular season game of the season against the Kansas City Wizards. O’Brien will be eligible to play again when Colorado travels to Boston to play the New England Revolution on April 12.

It wasn’t a real big shock that O’Brien was drafted in the first round of January’s MLS SuperDraft. The midfielder, who played last season at Santa Barbara, declared himself eligible after inking a three-year deal with Generation Adidas the week before the SuperDraft.

Generation Adidas is a joint venture between MLS and the United States Soccer Federation aimed to raise the level of young soccer talent in the United States. The program, sponsored by Adidas, encourages early entry (without college graduation) of American players into MLS.

By signing with Generation Adidas, O’Brien forgoes his remaining two years of eligibility at Santa Barbara.

The Colorado Rapids, who own O’Brien’s rights, will not have to pay the 2006 Decatur grad’s contract because Adidas has already taken care of the deal. This is a great way for the MLS to affordably bring in the best young talent in the country while these players receive strong contracts for the beginning of their pro careers. These players will also receive compensation directed toward finishing their college education following their professional soccer career.

Last year at Santa Barbara, O’Brien was a NSCAA All-American Third Team member after registering seven goals and 11 assists in 21 games. The most widely recruited transfer player in the nation in 2006, he came to UCSB after a very successful freshman campaign at the University of San Diego.

During his four-year Decatur career, O’Brien amassed 46 goals and 37 assists and was was named Gatorade Player of the Year for the state in 2006. He has also led the Gators to a pair of South Puget Sound League South Division championships and been the league’s Most Valuable Player twice.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,

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