Exclusive - Going against the current trend, Colorado Rapids midfielder Cole Bassett rejected a move to Europe during the most recent transfer window.
The 20-year-old has long been on the radar of teams across the pond following his emergence in 2018 and a trial spell at Arsenal in 2019.
After a strong start to the 2021 campaign, Bassett was linked to a number of clubs and in August, the Rapids rejected an offer from an unnamed Dutch club. But the midfielder remained in talks with a Portuguese side, later confirmed by 90min to be Benfica.
In the end, while teammate Sam Vines joined Antwerp in Belgium and fellow United States prospects Gianluca Busio and Tanner Tessmann moved to Venezia in Serie A, Bassett stayed put. His reasoning was that he still had more to learn and wanted to help the Rapids win MLS Cup.
“It was a tough decision because of the stature of the club,” Bassett said (via Burgundy Wave). “They are a Champions League club and are one of the best clubs of all time. It was just not the best step for me at the moment. I feel I am in a good place here. I see the team that we have and it has the best chance to win a trophy, whether it is Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup.
“For me, I was not 100% on it, I felt I should just stay the year out, try to do my best for the team, and hopefully in the winter everything else happens.”
90min recently caught up with Colorado head coach Robin Fraser to assess Bassett's growth and skillset, as well as where he still needs to improve to take that all-important step to Europe in the future.
"I think Cole is an interesting young player because when you first look at him, you think 'what is it about him?' because nothing necessarily stands out about him - or so it didn't when I first got here," said Fraser.
"But I feel like, what he has developed over the last number of years are a couple of things. His positional play and his understanding of how his movement can affect the opposition, that helps him create and open opportunities for us and for himself. And he has worked relentlessly at finishing since I've been here. Two years now, he's the last guy off the field, always doing finishing, working on different types of finishing."
Bassett's attacking instincts and technical ability are now there for all to see. His three goals and two assists this season are just two shy of career highs for both metrics with plenty of time to go. And the 20-year-old has been unlucky not to score more, hitting the woodwork seven times - at least three more occasions than any other player in the league. It's the physical side of his game in which Fraser has urged Bassett to make more gains.
Hardly surprising for a player who only left his teenage years behind in July, but something Fraser believes is the "last piece of his game" that'll tie everything else together.
"Where he still needs to mature is kind of in the trenches," Fraser continued. "When things get rough and physical, how does he handle himself there? As a young player, that's not entirely unusual, but obviously the jump from youth soccer to professional soccer, there's so much to it.
"It's so much faster and so much more physical. And I think that's the last piece of his game that, if he gets comfortable in the physical part of it, then I think he'll be ready to go and do his thing because when he's facing forward, in and around the goal, he can be as dangerous as anyone.
"He has that many different types of strikes that he can be very dangerous going forward. But the part of his game that he needs to continue to improve is the physical part - as he deals with the physical part, he will improve leaps and bounds.
"You know he's, he's worked in the gym, he's gotten stronger. And now it's about the confidence and the wherewithal to deal with pressure - and where to put the ball when he's under pressure. I think if he continues to grow at the rate in which he has been the last two years, in terms of dealing with the physical play, then I think he'll be really ready quite soon."
Though Bassett has managed just one assist in his last 11 appearances, he has still averaged 3.34 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes in MLS this season. On the other side of the ball, no player has applied more pressure to the opposition than Bassett who, on 582, sits 267 clear of any other Rapids player for that particular metric.
As Fraser says, marrying that endeavour with the physical ability to mix it with any kind of opponent may well be the last piece of the jigsaw.