Colorado Rapids defender Chris Klute emerges as top option at left back

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Two years ago, Chris Klute was driving airport cars around Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, trying to figure out what exactly he was going to do with his life post-college while he stayed with a college friend’s family.

Today, however, Klute has a pretty good idea where his life is headed. He’s now solidly sealed as the Rapids starting left back despite just eight months in MLS. He came to Colorado on loan last September on a recommendation from Atlanta Silverbacks technical director Eric Wynalda, and in less than a year, the 23-year-old has made the unlikely journey from Silverbacks reserve to Rapids starter.

“I lost my way for a little bit,” Klute told MLSsoccer.com on Saturday. “But it made me appreciate the game a little bit more, taking some time off, I missed the game. I came back and I think I respected the game a little bit more. I think differently now about what I’m doing then [before].”

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It didn’t come easily for Klute. After taking a year-long break from soccer beginning in 2010, he was approached by the Silverbacks about a spot on their reserves team. After playing for a few months and still unable to lock down a place on Atlanta’s first team, he played at Clayton State in suburban Atlanta for a year.

He finally tried out for the Silverbacks first team last summer, made a quick impression and, a few months later, packed his bags for Commerce City.

Klute’s athleticism allows him to go up and down the field out of the left back spot. Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja likes to give his fullbacks the freedom to come down the flanks and create opportunities on attack, and Klute has rewarded his coach's willingness to play him with two assists in his nine starts.

On Saturday, Klute provided the cross that opened the scoring in Colorado’s 2-0 win over Chivas USA, as his low drive met a sliding Atiba Harris for the game’s key opening score in the ninth minute (video above).

“I think I have to highlight the mentality this particular kid has,” Pareja said. “He believes what we teach. He knows that when we ask him to do things, he knows that’s what he has to do to make him grow as a player. I think the club has an outstanding left back that has a lot to learn, and he knows [that], but he’s young and he’s fulfilling our expectations.”

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Klute is filling a position that’s been a difficult spot for the Rapids in recent years. Players like Danny Earls, Miguel Comminges and Luis Zapata all tried their hand at left back, but the Rapids still haven’t found a consistent answer there since Jordan Harvey left town after the 2009 season.

And while Klute might not be the permanent answer at left back yet, his nine straight starts show that he’s certainly established himself as the answer for now, and potentially for the future as well.

“I’m pretty confident for the most part,” he said. “I don’t really think about the games as much and I think about the good teammates I have around me and the good bond we have and how we’re doing right now. It’s really good.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.