Clint Irwin's sterling saves keep him a nose ahead of Matt Pickens in Colorado Rapids' GK competition

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Clint Irwin’s starting job wasn’t necessarily in trouble. But the object in the Colorado Rapids’ starting goalkeeper’s rearview mirror – veteran backup Matt Pickens – was perhaps a little closer than it may have appeared.

That was before Irwin turned in a standout performance in the Rapids’ 2-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Irwin had three terrific saves, including two key stops in the first half that eventually paved the way for Colorado to earn a quality victory – and Irwin to possibly earn a tighter grip on his starting job with Pickens now fully healed from his arm injury.

“I felt like I played well,” said Irwin, who recorded his ninth clean sheet of the season on Saturday. “I think I’ve had other, more complete performances, but I felt like it was a good performance overall.”

Irwin made two key stops in the first half to keep things level before Colorado’s offense got going. In the 26th minute, the North Carolina native expertly read Russell Teibert’s run into the box, coming out to make a save on the Vancouver youngster and keeping the score level. Eight minutes later, Irwin was again called to task to deny an open Kenny Miller with an acrobatic stop with his left foot.

Two minutes after Irwin’s second stop, the Rapids opened the scoring through Deshorn Brown’s header, and the Rapids cruised from that point on to claim the victory and their ninth straight positive result.

“You’re trying to make saves, that’s all you’re expected to do in that situation,” Irwin told MLSsoccer.com postgame on Saturday. “We knew that they get a lot of shots off, so I was just called upon to make saves, and that’s what I did.”

The 24-year-old Irwin has been one of the league’s biggest surprises so far this season, rocketing up the depth chart from preseason trialist to starting goalkeeper in under a month due to Pickens’ broken forearm in March. But even once Pickens’ arm healed earlier this summer, Irwin continued to hold onto the starting job thanks to his solid play, which has him in the conversation for MLS’ Newcomer of the Year award.

Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja has also said that the goalkeeper position is an open competition, and the veteran Pickens has proven himself to be fully healthy in recent weeks. But with Irwin’s performance on Saturday in mind, perhaps the Elon College graduate further entrenched himself as the Rapids’ primary man between the posts.

“He had a good game,” Pareja said on Saturday. “I’m very proud of his performance.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.