Goalkeeper Clint Irwin ( @clintirwin) seems as though he came from out of thin air to man the pipes in Colorado after a broken arm sidelined starter Matt Pickens early in 2013. So, exactly who is the man who made the Rapids as the third keeper in his “last shot” at playing soccer and is now one of the hottest netminders in MLS?
The graduate of Elon University took time to share a peek at his path to Colorado, his connection to the NBA, and his decision (a fortuitous one for Rapids fans) to quit the corporate world and make his way out of North Carolina to pitches elsewhere. (VOTE IRWIN FOR MLS SAVE OF THE WEEK FOR WEEK 9)
Was soccer always your game or did you play others as well?
Clint Irwin: "I was playing every sport. I remember going out with my dad and we’d take a soccer ball, basketball, baseball, and a football and we’d just alternate playing whatever. As I got older in middle school from like sixth to eighth grade I was playing soccer, basketball, baseball, and a little tennis in the summer.
Once I got to high school (Charlotte Christian High School in Charlotte, NC) it was just soccer and basketball there. We were on a pretty good team. I actually played with Stephen (of the NBA Golden State Warriors) and Seth (recently of the Duke Blue Devils) Curry on our high school team so I was just setting screens for them. It’s really good fitness. For the goalkeeper position it’s a lot of the same movements. When the weather gets bad you’re playing basketball and moving the same way, whether it’s defensive slides, quick jumping, the same athletic movements. That really helps me in the offseason."
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When did you decide that you were going to make a living playing soccer?
"When I got out of college I said I’ll give myself 'till I’m 25 and see where I’m at at that point. I had to work a couple jobs just to make ends meet in the USL. I was working at an internet start-up company doing content. I majored in Political Science and minored in Philosophy and Classical Studies so it was nothing like that. I really enjoyed what I was doing there and it got to the point where I was learning a lot and it was complimenting what I was doing on the soccer field. We were doing e-commerce stuff and then public relations and marketing and it was kind of around soccer.
A lot of people, when they’re playing, it's tunnel vision - but that stuff helps me keep my mind sharp for other things maybe down the road. It came to August of last year when I got a job offer. I gave it a lot of thought and eventually I decided that if I’m going to do this (play soccer) I need to commit completely to it and get in as good as shape as I could."
Born, raised, and played collegiately in North Carolina, how was it trying to break into the pro game and ultimately ending up in a new city with new teammates?
"My first two years (at Elon) I was splitting time with a Junior, his name was Kyle Boerner, and we were competing for a spot. I picked up good training habits from there because when I was growing up I was the only goalkeeper on my club team and High School team. Just that daily, in-and-out competitiveness, and his drive rubbed off on me. I always speak highly of Coach (Darren) Powell. He teaches you to play the game the right way, both on and off the field, how to conduct yourself and good training habits."
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Once I left Elon, and I got on that trial circuit, you get used to picturing yourself on a new team. I think I’ve gotten kind of used to it and it’s not that big of a change for me. I love North Carolina and look forward to going back one day but I love seeing another part of the country."
How did you approach coming into camp with the Rapids this season?
"I kind of saw it as my last shot. (Matt Pickens) was the established guy and I was just concentrated on making the roster when I came in, to be honest. You’ve got to set your goals and then re-evaluate where you are. At that point, it was just trying to make the 18.
Obviously it’s changed faster than maybe I had set my goals as, so I just have to adjust. You’ve got to take your opportunity with two hands. Those sort of experiences I’ve had, where things just change quickly, has prepared me for what’s happened early in this season. I look at the guys coming through and the mentality when you’re coming out is, “if I don’t get drafted I’ll just catch on with a USL team” and it’s not the case.
It’s extremely difficult just to get on a team, but once you get in the system it’s a little bit easier and you gain what the coaches call “experience”. It was frustrating because you’d hear it so many times when you were getting rejected, but it was like ‘how am I supposed to get experience?"
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I have friends who aren’t playing soccer who are trying to find jobs and I see a lot of similarities. They think professional athletics is different, but it’s not - you have to grind, network, meet people and get your name out there. It’s just like any other job."
What have you been working on with goalkeeper coaches Dave Dir and Chris Sharpe - where do you look to improve your game?
"The biggest thing Dave has helped with is reading the game and organizing the defense. It moves so quickly that you have to organize in advance rather than be reactive to situations. If you can do that you’re able to cut out a lot of potential opportunities for the other team by organizing early and having guys in the right spot. That’s been one of my weaknesses coming in. The goalkeeper’s unique where he can see the whole field. You have to take that responsibility, but we’ve had a lot of young guys in that are in the same situation I’m in. As much as I can help them from the back it’s going to help me."
What do you like to do away from the pitch, away from work?
"I’m waiting for the weather to get better, maybe this summer get a couple camping trips, do some hiking. I room with Kory (Kindle) and I’m pretty low-key: like to read, watch a few tv shows. Nothing too crazy."
* Brian Jennings has covered the Rapids for Soccer365.com since 2002. Please feel free to direct any questions or comments to Brian Jennings on twitter @MLSfrom5280.