Colorado Rapids hail goalkeeping hero Clint Irwin after first win: "Tonight was a reward for Clint"

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- Oscar Pareja’s heart stopped on Saturday night.

The Rapids head coach watched as his newly uncovered gem of a goalkeeper, Clint Irwin, crumpled to the grass in a heap of pain in the 67th minute of Colorado’s 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake on Saturday night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. It was the team's first victory of the 2013 season.

Fortunately for the injury-stricken Rapids, it was nothing more than a stinger, but Pareja knew the importance of keeping his 23-year-old rookie goalkeeper healthy after Irwin put together another impressive display on Saturday night.

FULL MATCH RECAP: Colorado 1, Real Salt Lake 0

“Tonight was a reward for [Clint], with the PK [where] he came up big,” Pareja told reporters post-game. “It came at a great moment for us.”

Irwin’s seventh-minute penalty kick stop on RSL forward Álvaro Saborío proved to be the difference between one and three points. Facing his third penalty kick in just his third MLS start, Irwin guessed right by diving to his left on Saborío’s penalty. The outstretched Irwin got a hand on the ball, pushing it off the post and away from danger, keeping the game level.

Post-game, however, Irwin admitted that had a little help from his friends behind the scenes in making the correct choice on his dive.

“Each week, [assistant coaches] Chris Sharpe and Dave Dir give us a scouting report on potential penalty takers for each team that we’re facing and they show us video,” Irwin told MLSsoccer.com post-game on Saturday. “They have certain patterns in which way that they go and so you’re just trying to read those kinds of characteristics.”

COMPLETE LINEUPS AND BOX SCORE

Irwin screamed and yelled after making the stop, flashing some of the personality that has made him an instant hit in Commerce City just six weeks into his Rapids and MLS career.

If Irwin keeps up this level of play, perhaps he might not just be a stand-in ‘keeper while regular starter Matt Pickens recovers from injury. Perhaps Irwin, who made two other saves on Saturday night, could be a starter for some time to come.

“It shows what he has been showing since he came to the club,” Pareja said. “It’s unbelievable how he came up with such a matureness.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.