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Scott Palguta boosts soccer's U.S. profile by riding the Rapids

Scott Palguta with trophy

Scott Palguta '05 with the 2010 Major League Soccer Cup trophy last fall following the Colorado Rapids' 2-1 championship win in Toronto over FC Dallas.

Scott Palguta '05, a four-year letterman with Big Red men's soccer, helped lead the Colorado Rapids professional team to victory last fall – the team's first Major League Soccer championship in its 15-year history.

It's rare for a former Cornellian to be part of a pro team that wins its top league championship. In the entire history of Cornell men's hockey, for example, only two players – Joe Nieuwendyk '86 and Ken Dryden '69 – won Stanley Cup titles.

Major League Soccer (MLS), the top soccer league in the United States, has quietly established a foothold in the U.S. sports landscape and is beginning its 16th season of operation. The quality of play on the field continues to improve each year, and the league continues to grow, having expanded to 18 teams this past season with the addition of franchises in Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, British Columbia. More than half of the teams in the league play in their own stadium, including the defending league champion Colorado Rapids, who have called the sparkling Dick's Sporting Goods Park home since the 2007 season.

Scott Palguta at Cornell

Scott Palguta during his playing days on the Big Red men's soccer team. See larger image

Palguta's Big Red playing career jump-started his professional career; when he was signed by the second-tier Rochester Rhinos in 2005, he was the first player from the Ivy League to be drafted into the United Soccer League's First Division. Palguta played for the Rhinos for four seasons.

"Whether the Ivy League is having a strong or weak year relative to other conferences, you won't find games more competitive anywhere in college soccer," Palguta says. "With a strong regular season being your only way into the NCAA tournament, your season hangs in the balance with every game. Playing in the Ivies took my competitive edge to a whole new level.

"[Former head coach] Bryan Scales always viewed the game as 11 individual battles and stressed the importance of winning your own," Palguta explains. "It's simple to see why: For the most part, if seven or eight of the guys on your team outplay the guy playing across from them, you'll win the game. When I take the field as a professional, my mindset is very similar – do everything in my power to get the best of the guy standing across from me. This is vital for success at the MLS level, and it was engrained into my mentality during my time at Cornell."

Palguta is entering his third year with the Rapids; the team won last season's championship in Toronto with a 2-1 victory over FC Dallas in November.

"When I reflect on the 2010 season, the game we played in Los Angeles against the LA Galaxy [Oct. 16] sticks out in mind, not necessarily as a turning point in the year, but the moment I thought we became one of the league's best teams," Palguta says. "We went into L.A. against the best team in the league, in front of a sellout crowd, and scored three unanswered goals after conceding one early in the game. It was the first come-from-behind win for the club in nearly four years, and I think that game proved not only that we could hang with the elite teams, but also that we were extremely adaptable and could find a way to win in nearly any scenario or environment."

While his second year with Colorado saw Palguta on the field less than his first season in 2009, he still cherishes the experience of winning his first championship as a professional player. After playing in 23 games and starting 19 times during the 2009 campaign, Palguta's playing time slipped to just 16 appearances and five starts in 2010.

Scott Palguta on the field for the Rapids

Scott Palguta on the field for the Colorado Rapids. See larger image

"Last season was a bittersweet one for me," he says. "While winning the MLS Cup is a dream come true and an accomplishment … it wasn't easy to watch from the sidelines during the championship game. My competitive spirit is one of the biggest reasons why I've been able to make it to this level, and I always want to be on the field – period. I think I'd be disappointed in myself if I were ever content to be left out of the starting lineup."

But "I certainly carried my weight when called upon throughout the season and was pleased with my performances as a whole. I also realize my MLS championship medal is something that can never be taken away from me, and I'm proud to have played a part during such a magical run," Palguta adds.

While the league features players from around the world, one of the stated goals of Major League Soccer is to develop soccer talent in the United States. To that end, 20 of the 25 players on the 2010 roster for Colorado – far more than most of the teams in the league – played at least some college soccer in the United States.

Palguta's club option for the 2011 season was picked up, meaning he will be a part of the club as it tries to defend its MLS Cup title this season.

"It's difficult to look too far into the future because there's so much uncertainty in professional sports these days," Palguta says. "You never really know when one door could close and another might open. I'd always be willing to listen if an opportunity to play abroad rose, not just because of the obvious career incentives, but also for the cultural experience a move overseas would provide.

"Right now, though, I'm content to be playing for Colorado and am really looking forward to what should be an extremely exciting 2011 campaign for the club."

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