COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Long before his time playing in Major League Soccer, Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin was well aware of the body of work put forth by big-name players like Steven Gerrard and Didier Drogba.
Growing up as a supporter of English Premier League giants Liverpool FC, Irwin admits to being a Gerrard “fanboy” and says that playing alongside his childhood idol is like a FIFA video game come to life.
Likewise, Irwin got his fair share of looks at Drogba, who often served as a foil to the Reds’ campaign while playing with Chelsea FC.
“I saw him beat them a lot during his time there,” said Irwin. “I think for him, there’s the same level of respect.”
Needless to say, Colorado's ‘keeper will be setting his video game controller aside when his team hosts Drogba and the visiting Montreal Impact on Saturday (6 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
“As soon as you step on the field, it’s just another player. You have to look at it that way. It’s still a soccer game, it’s still another player you have to stop,” Irwin said of facing Drogba, who will be the next in a long line of world-class stars the third-year pro has faced this season, including Gerrard, David Villa, and Kaká.
Drogba has shown he can put up video game-like numbers, scoring a hat trick in his MLS debut, but even the former Chelsea legend admits that the league has been a bigger challenge than expected.
“You can see that it’s not easy,” Drogba told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s not every weekend that I’m going to score three goals. I don’t want to say that I was lucky to score three in a game, but it’s not going to happen every game.”
As an avid watcher and student of the game, Irwin is pulling out all the stops to make sure it doesn’t happen in Colorado. When facing players who have played in the EPL, Irwin seeks aid from an additional source: Rapids Designated Player Kevin Doyle, whose locker at Dick's Sporting Goods Park is an arm’s length away.
“I just ask him what he thinks about certain players. He’s got a different perspective from being around the game over there and being in that league for 10-plus years,” Irwin explained. “He’s a great resource and probably gets annoyed with all of the questions I ask.”
Much like his Gerrard fandom, Irwin first familiarized himself with Doyle as a youth. The 26-year-old first watched the Irish international play during a teenage trip to England where he watched a game between Everton and a Doyle-led Reading side.
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It begs the question: Would he too like to play in Europe like many of his soccer idols?
“I think it just depends,” Irwin pondered. “I would love to play in Europe, solely for the experience, but I don’t necessarily think every experience in Europe would make me a better player. It would be something I’d look at on an individual basis: club environment, coaching staff and the overall feeling of the city.”
Right now, the Rapids' first-choice goalkeeper is enjoying the life of relative anonymity he can experience in the streets of Denver, an element he lampooned during a memorable MLS All-Star week video shoot.
“For me, I enjoy being able to walk down the street and being able to enjoy my time,” Irwin said. “You want to have anonymity some times and at other times you’d like to get recognized. When you see Drogba show up at the airport and there’s a thousand people greeting him, that’s got to be pretty stressful. One of the draws of MLS is for guys to come here and enjoy the game more than anything.”
Irwin will be sharing the spotlight with Drogba on Saturday however, hoping to finish out the season strong and accomplish the remaining targets he’s set for himself.
“I think we’re still trying to push for the playoffs,” he said. “If we can continue to put up clean sheets that’s going to give us a great opportunity. We’ll just go from there and see what happens.”