On a recent episode of the MLSSoccer.com podcast Extratime, retired Colorado Rapids captain and American International Marcelo Balboa made an appearance as part of the podcast’s MLS team Mount Rushmore series. Balboa spoke about the Rapids Mt. Rushmore, a topic Last Word on Soccer previously explored. He also discussed national team adventured and how MLS got started in 1996.
Colorado Rapids Might Not Exist Without Marcelo Balboa
You can listen to the whole show below or through this link.
One of the most interesting tidbits Celo brought up in the interview was how he came to Colorado and how the Colorado Rapids might not have existed without him.
Balboa was playing for Club Leon in Liga MX prior to MLS starting. Sunil Gulati, who had been a staffer for the U.S. Soccer Federation for the World Cup and was working as a deputy commissioner of MLS, set up a meeting with Balboa.
“We go to his hotel. We’re sitting there. He picks up the hotel phone. He says ‘I’ve got somebody who wants to talk to you.’ I said ‘great,'” Balboa told Extratime.
“He’s like ‘Phil Anschutz wants to talk to you.’ I’m like ‘ok, who’s Phil Anschutz?'”
“He was the owner of the Rapids. He proceeds. We have a little conversation. And them Sunil says to him ‘hey Phil, why don’t you tell him what you told me’ and [Anschutz] says ‘listen, the only way I’m going to have a team in Colorado is if the guy who did the funny overhead kick plays on my team.'”
Anschutz was referring to the bicycle kick shot that Balboa nearly scored on in the World Cup against Columbia.
Anschutz was one of the early owners and investors in MLS. He was looking to own several teams in the first season. To this date, he has owned seven different MLS clubs for some period of time, as part of Anschutz Entertainment Group. Kroenke Sports & Entertainment purchased the Rapids from him in 2004.
It’s interesting to think that Anschutz choosing to put one of his MLS teams in Denver was dependent on a specific player signing for the club. Balboa could have chosen to stay in Mexico or pursued an opportunity in Europe. The money would have been better.
“The dream was always to play in the United States and help build this league. We all scarified. I could have gone and play for Cruz Azul for the next five years,” Balboa added. “I am so proud to have been a part of these 25 years [of Major League Soccer].”
Growing up and going to school in Southern California, he could have said he wanted to play for the LA Galaxy. Being a starter for the national team, he might have had the clout to make such a request.
But he said yes to Anschutz, returning to where he played for the Colorado Foxes, describing it as the best decision he ever made for his playing career.
“When a guy says I want to the guy who does the overhead kick, how do you say no?”
Denver is a crowded sports market. A lot factors determine which cities and ownership groups MLS awards franchises to these days. With each expansion team, the standards and the cost has gone up. It was relatively easy for Denver to get the Rapids in 1996. It would have been more difficult a decade later. If KSE and/or AEG were looking to bring an MLS expansion team to Denver today, the competition would be stiff.
Had Marcelo Balboa said no to Anschutz on the phone that day, the Colorado Rapids might not exist today.