Back in 2007, Arsenal and one of Stan Kroenke’s other teams, the Colorado Rapids, signed a partnership agreement but what, exactly, was the point of it?
On 9 February 2007, it was announced that Arsenal had become official partners with Colorado Rapids in the MLS, with a further agreement seeming to come in 2010 to develop the commercial side of the partnership.
As part of the agreement, Arsenal and the Rapids “can now enter into international friendlies, preseason training sessions and joint player development programs.”
The original article on Arsenal.com about the partnership seems to have gone. That link is dead and a search of the site for ‘Colorado Rapids’ turned up nothing about any partnership agreement.
Judging by the coverage on Arsenal.com and in the UK media, not much happened between the two clubs since. The sides played each other once, in 2019, but beyond that, tumbleweeds.
But go to the Rapids site and it is a different story.
There was to be an ‘Arsenal Cup’ that would be a ‘club tournament that will be open to American club teams from all over the United States and that will be hosted at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park was also a highlight of the announcement.’ The details of the tournament were to be announced at a later date.
They never came.
The Rapids did come to London Colney to train with Arsenal in March 2010 for five days, a month after the announcement of their expanded agreement. They played the Arsenal reserves and won 1-0 against an Arsenal squad that featured James Shea, Francis Coquelin, Tom Cruise, Emmanuel Frimpong, Luke Ayling, Ignasi Miquel, Nacer Barazite, Craig Eastmond, Luke Freeman, Sanchez Watt, Conor Henderson, Emi Martinez, Sam Byles, Cedric Evina, Nicholas Yennaris, Rhema Obed, Daniel Boateng, Jamie Edge, Oguzhan Ozyakup, Benik Afobe, Rhys Murphy, and Chuks Aneke.
The summer before, Arsenal held a Summer Soccer Academy, something they hold around the world on a regular basis and have done for 30 years. The program was led by ex-Arsenal player and ex-FC Dallas Head Coach Steve Morrow.
Morrow who took the role of International Partnership Performance Coordinator at Arsenal in 2008 commented: “The U.S. has one of the most competitive youth soccer markets in the world and there is an incredibly high standard of soccer coaches and programs available. However Arsenal Soccer Schools’ 20 years of experience has enabled us to establish one of the leading soccer educational programs worldwide.”
A few years later, in 2012, 19-year-old George Brislen-Hall, an Arsenal left-back, trained with them at a pre-season camp.
Shea, the young Arsenal keeper who played against them at London Colney, trained with the Rapids in 2013.
In 2014, midfielder, Samuel Galindo, now 29 and playing for Club Always Ready in Bolivia, went on trial at the start of 2014. It was not successful.
Shea, 30, is now at Luton, while Brislen-Hall, 28, has been without a professional club since the year after he trained with Colorado. He ran the London Marathon in 2019 to raise money for children and young people with cancer.
In 2015, Colorado Rapids also brought in Richard Clarke as Senior Director of Communications and Digital Media after 13 years with Arsenal as Managing Editor of the Arsenal Media Group.
Coming the other way, only one player has arrived at Arsenal from Colorado and that happened in 2019 when 19-year-old Cole Basset trained with the u23s.
Speaking after he returned to the States, Basset said, “The facilities are amazing.
“When I first got there, I was shocked how many fields there were and how nice the U-18s and U-23s dressing rooms were. They were better than a lot of first team dressing rooms. The gym is also one of the biggest I’ve seen.
“I was a bit jet-lagged for my first training session from the long flight and not getting much sleep the night before, but after a couple of drills, I felt comfortable.
“The style of play with the 23s is actually a similar style to how we play with Robin [Fraser]. Possession oriented with positioning being key in being able to break teams down with the ball.
“They closed you down very quick, and you had to be quick on the ball, and know what you’re going to do with it before you get it. I felt like I fit in really nice.
“The guys were very welcoming, and they all speak English, so it was very easy to communicate and train well.
“The biggest takeaway I have is being confident and having a winning mentality. Obviously, you need to be very good on both sides of the ball, but having this mentality and confidence about you is what gets you into a team like Arsenal.
“I now want to come back to Colorado even more motivated to have a really good season with the team and help us reach playoffs, because, if you’re a player, you want to play and win in the biggest games possible to help you develop.
“The playoffs is where I can develop this winning mentality and help instil it in myself.”
Basset is now a regular with Colorado Rapids in the MLS.
Beyond that? It hasn’t seemed like much of a partnership at all, the meeting of the two sides in 2019 coming as part of the International Champions Cup and while their links probably played some sort of role, it was unlikely integral.
Ahead of that game, Vinai Venkatesham, said: “The match against Colorado Rapids in Denver is a great way to kick-off our summer tour to the United States. We of course have very close links to the Rapids through our mutual ownership and we are looking forward to playing each other in a match which will provide both teams with a competitive challenge, in front of many American Arsenal supporters.”
What those close links are, however, is kept from far from view, if they do indeed exist.
It’s interesting to note that of the 29 players Arsenal sent on that 2019 tour of the USA, 16 are still at the club, although four are out on loan and one is Sead Kolasinac.
By the end of the summer transfer window, it is highly likely that only seven will remain.