A year ago this weekend ...
It wasn't the introduction to MLS that I was expecting, nor had I planned for it. Having arrived in Denver a year ago today, I was afforded one day watching the team train, before they departed for Utah and a date with Real Salt Lake on Saturday, March 16.
In the 72 hours from arriving in the USA to calling my first-ever Colorado Rapids game, I was given plenty of 'background' on the Rapids-RSL rivalry. Visa issues had prevented me being here for the start of the season, and it just so happened that I was hurled into the mix for what was a significant fixture. There would be no easing into the role.
Aside from watching a couple of preseason games on YouTube and scouring the internet for archive action, I had never seen the Rapids play a live MLS game. Indeed, I had only once met my color analyst Marcelo Balboa, and that was eight years earlier in Frisco. I had never sat in the studio from which I would call the game and had barely met any of the production crew whose tricky job it would be to make me look good.
In short, despite surviving a week in North Korea, having guns jabbed in my ribcage in Egypt and forced to take cover during a stadium riot in Tunisia, this still represented a challenge.
The first commentary being a road game, I slapped on my TV make-up and sat down in front of the cameras at Altitude TV's studios. Of course, like always, I had prepared fully for almost every eventuality, though the turn of events in Sandy that day took everyone by surprise.
Yes, the pressure was on me, but it was nothing compared to what awaited a young goalkeeper by the name of Clint Irwin. As baptism of fires go, mine was a mere singeing of the eyebrows compared to Irwin's. Signed to his first MLS contract just weeks earlier, he sat warming the bench in Utah as first-choice Matt Pickens took his place between the sticks.
Within minutes of the start, though, Irwin was thrust headlong into the lion's den after Pickens sustained a double break of his left arm. What followed was a career-defining display from the then 23-year-old. His performance helped the Rapids collect their first point of the season, after successive defeats to both FC Dallas and Philadelphia, and helped Irwin come of age.
And so, as I mark my anniversary in Colorado, it's with a wry smile that I look back on the events of that March madness a year ago. I'd like to say both Irwin and myself came through our 'tests' and got stronger. Strength of character, belief in your abilities (however limited in my case) and having a good team around you is crucial in whatever you do.
Thank you Colorado Rapids. Thank you Rapids fans. Thank you Altitude, and thank you Clint Irwin, for you were the story a year ago this weekend. I was simply grateful to be the storyteller ...