Rise and Fall of Clint Irwin

Is Clint Irwin returning from cloud nine with the pending return of Matt Pickens?
by Greg Moss   |   Thursday, June 27, 2013

Mile High Club – column on Colorado Rapids & the Denver area and Colorado soccer scenes.

The chance to start in any professional sport is in fact one of the most difficult things to accomplish.

For most, it is a dream from childhood come true. Players at a professional level are suspect to ridicule and criticism as well as love and praise. Those that hold the control on whether a player’s career lives or dies can turn on a dime, like a rogue criminal making a U-turn as he sees the flashing lights of an oncoming cop car.

Rapids rookie goalkeeper Clint Irwin had been placed on a pedestal after only his second start, facing and blocking 2 penalty kicks in 2 consecutive matches. His vision was seemingly unmatched, and the defense that stood guard in front of him was revamped, whether that due to new and young personnel, or just the will to protect the infant keeper.

Save after save, clean sheet after clean sheet, fans watched as the rookie made a name for himself in the state of Colorado, and ripples spanned from Commerce City throughout the league. All would know that Irwin was not to be trifled with.

Getting his start

The fateful match against Real Salt Lake back on March 16 had Rapids fans on their knees with their heads in their hands as they watched the 2012 Rapids MVP Matt Pickens fall to the pitch with broken bones in his arm.

Unsure of what was to come, rookie goalkeeper Irwin set foot onto the field for the first time as an MLS player. Steward Ceus, who was the former No. 2, had already struck out against Dallas in the 1st game of the season, making a mistake that even amateur keepers wouldn’t. That left the Rapids with one option in Irwin.

After his first 3 matches, Irwin would gain 5 clean sheets out of his next 9 games, and would average .69 goals against him from the time he stepped in for Pickens through their bye week and would go 5-2-5 from March 16 to June 1, only letting in multiple goals twice in that span.

He would be compared to the other great keeper in Colorado, Patrick Roy of the Stanley Cup winning Colorado Avalanche, and would be argued as better than the battle hardened veteran, and his predecessor, Pickens.

As early as it was, it seemed that fans might have been right. Match after match Irwin proved that he belonged in net. He had been in net for all 20 points the Rapids currently have, all of which were gained before their break in June. Keep in mind Irwin didn’t play the first 2 matches of the season. The man was making a run for rookie of the year, at least it would seem.

The Break Causes Problems

“Swift as a shadow, short as any dream. Brief as the lightening in the collied night…” (Shakespeare).

Many professional athletes, once they settle into a starting role in their respective sports, lose their “edge” and never get it back. Shakespeare didn’t know it, but he was describing the path that many professional athletes have walked. Flashes of talent come and go over the horizon, some more quickly than others.

It is much too early to make that judgment of Irwin, but with Pickens making a full return to practice and waiting in the wings, it may be that Irwin is feeling the pressure. Instead of standing his ground and being who he is, it is probable that he is in fact thinking too much rather than relying on his instinct that has served him so well in the past, and it is causing a hesitation in his quick decision-making. Those instinctual decisions are what have carried him to where he is now, but since the Rapids had their week off, those decisions seem more sluggish and repressed.

The Rapids have played 3 matches since their break in early June, all of which have been losses. They are 0-3-0 since June 1, with a goals-against average of 2.33. Obviously, that is a slightly different picture than the Rapids have become accustomed to.

But can we truly say that it is the goalkeeper’s fault? Since then, central defender Shane O’Neill has been absent playing with the U-20s overseas leaving Marvel Wynne, Drew Moor and German Mera to play sentinel for Irwin. No combination has held as well as Moor and O’Neill thus far, leaving Irwin in a similar situation that Pickens had faced throughout the 2012 season.

This is the difference, though. Pickens held the Rapids in many matches last season only losing by 1 point in the majority of those games. Since O’Neill has been gone, Irwin has allowed multiple goals in all 3 games after their break.

This leaves us with 1 of 2 possible scenarios. Either Irwin is feeling pressure from a healthy Pickens, or O’Neill means more to this team than any of us could have ever imagined. I believe that Irwin has a long career in professional soccer and will be prosperous once he discovers his feet again.

I also believe that Matt Pickens has many years to give as a top keeper in the MLS. Only the return of O’Neill will tell who is at fault for the Rapids failure over the last 3 matches.

NEXT UP: June 29 – Colorado Rapids vs. Montreal Impact, Stade Saputo, Montreal, Canada. 7 p.m. EST, MLS Live, Univision.

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Concordia College
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Colorado Rapids
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Producer of "From the Pitch" with Marcelo Balboa and a personal Rapids podcast. All personality with a face for radio and profile pictures. Born a midwesterner, thankfully transformed into a Rocky Mtn dweller. Covering Colorado Rapids with words and voice