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Dillon Serna’s rise at left back could open doors to Rapids success, USMNT future

Colorado Rapids midfielder Dillon Serna (17) greets fans after the match against the Portland Timbers at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – At just 24 years old, Colorado Rapids homegrown Dillon Serna has all the marks of a grizzled veteran. He stands as the longest-tenured player on the Rapids roster. His 91 appearances in Burgundy also mark the most for any current Rapids player.

But through seven seasons and three different head coaches, Serna has been unable to carve a steady role for himself in the starting XI, taking on a variety of roles including exciting young talent, midfielder of the future, dynamic super sub and depth spot starter.

Last season, he took on more defensive responsibilities than years past as one of a number of players then first-year Rapids head coach tried to insert at right back. Hungry for minutes, Serna was happy to oblige.

“I’ve played a few different positions,” Serna said during an interview with Pro Soccer USA. “That’s a strength of mine, but at the end of the day I want to be on the field. No matter what position I’m playing in, I’m happy to help the team.”

The experiments at right back didn’t go well for Colorado, who opted to go for a proven MLS right back by adding Keegan Rosenberry in the offseason. But as the Rapids approached the start of a new campaign in 2019, the opposite end of the pitch still had questions. Homegrown defender Sam Vines went down early with a preseason quad injury. Deklan Wynne, who was also expected to compete at left back, was slotted to the middle as Colorado dealt with numerous centerback injuries. With plans A, B and C out the window, Hudson again looked to Serna for help, asking him to fill in at left back.

In this new role, Serna has managed an excellent start to the 2019 season. Defensively, he’s averaged 4.66 recoveries and three clearances per match in each of his three appearances for Colorado while also pitching in three tackles, two interceptions and a blocked shot across those games. It’s not bad defensive work for a player who’d been previously known for highlight reel goals and who primarily plies his trade in the midfield.

“I’m surprised,” Hudson said of Serna’s transition. “I mean it respectfully, but I’m shocked as to how well he’s taken to it. He’s really grasped the opportunity and he’s getting the rewards for it.”

No one is hungrier for the Rapids to achieve success than Serna. A native of nearby Brighton, Colo., he grew up watching and going to Rapids games. But despite his lengthy tenure with the club, he’s never appeared in a playoff game. The closest he came to seeing postseason minutes came in 2016, but when that team made the playoffs, Serna was sidelined with a mid-summer knee injury which sidelined him for the remainder of the season. He reflects on those experiences as setting the tone to be the matured player he is now.

“I think I’ve grown a lot,” Serna said. “The injury was a big part of that, being out for 10 months. That was our most successful year and I wasn’t a part of that run towards the end of the season, so that was hard for me.”

This season feels different, however. Serna wants to do everything he can to push the Rapids back to the postseason.

“Success is definitely huge for me,” he said. “This year we’ve got a great group of guys and a lot of winners on this team. We got some big-time players so this year is going to be massive for us to make a serious run and be in the playoffs.”

For Anthony Hudson, it’s not just the big names like Kei Kamara, Benny Feilhaber and Tim Howard who are important to the Rapids’ success. He believes that Homegrowns like Serna, Kortne Ford and Cole Bassett are a critical part to the club’s culture and future success.

“What’s important for me and the club is that we build a core of players from the area, from Colorado and know what it means to represent Colorado and understand the fans,” Hudson explained. “The dream for me is to build a core of players that know what it means to represent the club and the shirt. I want these guys to be more vocal, in the locker room and on the pitch, because the reality is it’s their club.”

Serna’s maturation has extended off the field as well. In the offseason, he made the decision to tie the knot with his longtime fiancée Paige. In his downtime, he doesn’t spend hours playing FIFA like other 24-year-olds, instead opting for quiet time in the outdoors.

When it’s time to work, it’s “back to business” as he says in his own words. In an effort to improve at left back, he’s studied film, trying to learn opposing attacker’s tendencies. He hopes that this continued focus and steady improvement will not just lead the Rapids to greener pastures, but himself as well. Like other U.S. Men’s National Team players before him, such as DaMarcus Beasley and more recently, Tyler Adams, he hopes the transition from midfielder to wingback can open more doors for international call-ups.

“I’ve always wanted to get back with the National Team,” said Serna “I was called up to the 2015 January camp and haven’t been back since, so I think that’s a goal. I think the left back position is definitely one where if I continue to do well, that’s a real possibility for me to get called back into a January camp.”

Hudson thinks the best is yet to come from the young and newly minted left back.

“I still think he’s got loads of improvement and he’s got bigger performances in him. Dillon is an exciting player and suits how we want to play. He shows real energy going forward, he’s got a good left foot, he’s the type of player on the pitch that you want. If he keeps progressing and learning the role, he’s got bigger performances in him.”

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