COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – When Younes Namli scored the opening goal in the Colorado Rapids’ 2-1 win over Orlando City SC Saturday, he made history. Scoring after just two appearances, it marked the fastest a Rapids’ Designated Player has gotten on the scoresheet after their Colorado debut.
Colorado’s track record with Designated Players could be graded best as a “mixed bag” with names like Tim Howard, Kevin Doyle, Shkëlzen Gashi, Juan Ramirez and Gabriel Torres having graced the annals of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Transitioning to MLS and the altitude of Colorado was always going to be a challenge, but for Namli and the Rapids, it was important their newest big name signing find success and find it early.
“I think anytime you’re a new player on a team, there’s expectations and within the community there’s expectations even around the league,” Rapids coach Robin Fraser said. “I think if you score in your second game in the league and then score in that fashion, I think you take some of that pressure off and you just get to be you.”
Namli did just that, dribbling through Orlando defenders as if it were a cone drill at training before finding the silky finish. It was a play that showed the Danish-Moroccan midfielder’s best qualities – creativity, vision and drive.
He learned those qualities growing up while watching some of his favorite players in YouTube videos and Nike’s famed “Joga Bonito” ad campaign – videos which featured famed Brazilian Ronaldinho and his national team compatriots showing off their skills.
“He was an amazing player,” said Namli. “I mean, and the fact that he always played with a smile was just amazing to watch.”
Namli has brought similar attributes to Colorado, both on and off the pitch. Aside from his goalscoring and creativity, the attacker has brought a healthy mix of professionalism and lightheartedness to the locker room. Despite being the new guy, Namli hasn’t backed down from the banter of other locker room characters like Jack Price or Kellyn Acosta.
“Who is that? Obama?” he quipped to a suit-clad Acosta trying to disrupt a media scrum surrounding him.
“En Espagnol,” he ribs to the Spanish-speaking American goalkeeper William Yarbrough while he conducts his own interview.
“He’s got a really like fun personality,” Fraser said with a grin. “And when it comes to soccer, he wants to win. He’s a very determined player. And really, he very much fits into our locker room. He’s a guy who will do whatever the team asked him to do. He works extremely hard. He’s very, very serious when it comes to winning games.”
The son of Moroccan immigrants, Namli also learned the value of hard work.
“My parents provided everything for my siblings and I,” said Namli. “I am where I am today because of them.”
With Colorado in the midst of a build towards a return to the postseason following a three-year hiatus, Namli knows his role in the project and is fully on board with achieving its goal.
“The style of play and the club’s ambition was the most important thing in making my decision [to sign],” he explained. “There’s a challenge here to compete in MLS. It was a perfect fit for me.”
History will determine whether Namli is graded in better terms than his Designated Player predecessors. Nonetheless, he’s already well on the path toward carving out a legacy for himself and his team.
“I came to compete and we have a good a good group of guys, a good squad,” Namli said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to achieve something.”