Decatur grad will play soccer for Colorado Rapids

By CASEY OLSON, The Mirror

Ciaran O’Brien is officially a professional soccer player.

The former Decatur High School star was drafted with the fifth overall pick of the 2008 Major League Soccer SuperDraft Sunday by the Colorado Rapids. The SuperDraft was held in Baltimore.

“I am very excited about joining the Rapids and look forward to joining my new teammates in Colorado,” said O’Brien.

Colorado opens the 2008 MLS season on March 29 by hosting David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Rapids finished fourth in the Western Conference last season with a 9-13-8 record.

It wasn’t a real big shock that O’Brien was drafted in the first round of Sunday’s SuperDraft. The midfielder, who played last season at the University of California-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 Major League Soccer 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.

“I felt it was the right time for me to enter the draft and Generation Adidas offers me an excellent opportunity to not only continue my education, but develop as a player professionally,” O’Brien said, who totaled 13 goals and 15 assists in only 40 collegiate games.

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.

O’Brien’s foray into professional soccer is a family tradition. His father, Fran, had a long professional soccer career in Ireland and North America and is now one of the most respected youth coaches in area, and his older brother, Leighton, is currently playing with the Seattle Sounders after stints in Major League Soccer and Europe.

Leighton O’Brien was a star at Federal Way High School in the mid-1990s and went on to play at the University of San Diego. Following his college career, he was drafted by the New England Revolution in the third round of the 1999 Major League Soccer college draft. In 2003, he led the A League in assists and was named MVP.

In 2004, Leighton O’Brien moved over to Sweden to play for Bodens BK. He came back to Major League Soccer a year later, signing with Real Salt Lake. He lasted less than a year back in MLS and returned to the Sounders.

Even O’Brien’s mother, Valerie, was a standout soccer player in Ireland before the family settled in Federal Way after Fran’s career led him to the now-defunct Tacoma Stars of the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL). His sister also played in college at Barry University in Florida.

“I just grew up playing,” O’Brien said. “My goal is to play soccer professionally.”

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.

As a member of FC United from 2002-07 he amassed 70 goals and 59 assists during his six years with the club, leading them to a regional championship and a national title match in 2004. FC United plays out of Tacoma.

O’Brien’s was one of just nine players who were signed before the MLS SuperDraft to represent Adidas.

Last season’s class of eight Generation Adidas players produced seven of the 13 first-round selections in the MLS SuperDraft, including the top two. This year’s Generation Adidas class also accounted for seven of the first 13 picks.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,