Colorado Rapids youngster Clint Irwin stakes claim to top goalkeeper spot

SANDY, Utah – Never heard of Clint Irwin? Don’t worry. Few soccer fans outside of Elon University or the USL Pro’s Charlotte Eagles had either, until Saturday.

But now, after an impressive showing in emergency relief for starter Matt Pickens at Rio Tinto Stadium, Irwin could be poised to become something of a household name for a Rapids team looking to reverse their early-season fortunes.

Based on his solid 83-minute shift that included two game-changing saves on RSL midfielder Luis Gil, the 23-year-old MLS debutant is the likely choice to become the Rapids’ starter for the foreseeable future while Pickens recovers from a broken forearm likely for the rest of the spring.

And while the Charlotte, N.C., native never wanted to get his chance because of a serious injury to a teammate, he seized the opportunity when he got his chance Saturday afternoon.

“You always know there’s a chance you can get into a game, but I’ve been battling just to make the bench,” said Irwin, who made three saves. “It was little surreal because I went out for warmups with Matt, and coaches took me right in front of the RSL supporters there at that end of the field, and they were giving me stick.

“And if you’re coming from a small school and USL, you don’t hear that kind of stuff. That was a good wakeup call for me that I was in the big leagues now.”

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Rapids defender Drew Moor said all he could do for Irwin when he charged onto the field in Pickens’ spot was simply smile and reassure his new goalkeeper he would be fine, despite a tough scenario in which to make his debut.

“It was his debut and he was fantastic,” Moor said. “The guy’s just a goalkeeper. He knows what he’s doing.”

Irwin’s two biggest saves on the day were a diving stop to his left on a blast from Gil in the 41st minute, and then and a charging stop on Tony Beltran in the 64th when the young RSL midfielder had a clean look in the box after a cross trickled through the Rapids’ penalty box (above).

“Those are the kinds of plays you just see lining up, and you stay back on your line you’re not going to have much of a chance,” Irwin said. “I just went out like a crazy man and tried to make myself as big as possible. Luckily it hit me in the shoulder and not the face so I could still get some good pictures.”

What’s next for Irwin isn’t exactly clear. With Pickens likely out for the near future the battle for the team’s top spot is between Irwin and former backup incumbent Steward Ceus. But Ceus may have lost his spot after a flub in the Rapids’ season opener that cost the club a 1-0 result against FC Dallas, and Irwin couldn’t have stated his case much better than he did against RSL.

The Rapids return to action on the road against the LA Galaxy on March 23.

“Good teams are built on the competition for spots,” he said. “The coaches didn’t really tell me anything about the future, they just told me I had a good game.”