Photo: Andrew Epstein makes 90th minute save for the Rapids U-18s in 2012 in 2-1 win over Houston Dynamo U-18s.
Over the past three years, Fort Collins, Colo. native Andrew Epstein has grown used to traveling long distances to play for the Colorado Rapids Academy U-16 and U-18 teams in Commerce City. This week, the 17-year-old goalkeeper will travel even further to don the Rapids colors.
On Saturday Epstein will start in goal for the Rapids Reserve team when they take on the Harrisburg City Islanders in Pennsylvania (5 p.m. MT, WATCH LIVE HERE).
"I'm definitely excited to get this experience with these guys," Epstein told ColoradoRapids.com this week when he learned the news. "This is a good opportunity for me to get out there and see what I can do."
Epstein's debut with the pro players comes due to a few circumstances.
After first-team goalkeeper Matt Pickens broke his arm in March, the club was left with goalkeepers Clint Irwin and Steward Ceus. Pickens is still out, Irwin has become the first-choice 'keeper, and Ceus, who has started all six Reserve League matches in 2013, is unavailable after battleing a back issue which has prevented him from training this week.
Additionally, while the MLS Reserve League allows teams to dress up to five Academy or players on trial for each match against other MLS reserve teams, the roster rules don't allow trialists to play Reserve league match against USL Pro teams.
Whatever the reasons, the Rapids coaching staff - which has used nine different Academy players in Reserve League matches over the last two seasons - is confident in Epstein.
"We believe that (Epstein) is ready, that's why he's getting this opportunity," said Wilmer Cabrera, first-team assistant and Reserve team head coach. "He's confident, and even though he's young, he's vocal and he organizes his defense well. He reacts very quick to any kind of decision."
Epstein, who has signed a letter of intent to play at Stanford University in the fall, joined the Rapids Development Academy three years ago after being encouraged by now assistant goalkeeping coach Chris Sharpe. He was first invited to train with the pro side a year ago, but it wasn't until this spring that he became a regular at training with the first-team.
"My comfort level has definitely gone up, and it's going to continue going higher," Epstein said of training with the pros. "In the beginning - it was kind of a rough start - but I'm starting to get into the rhythm of things."
For the past two seasons Epstein has split time on the Academy U-18s with UNLV recruit Brad Holub, who is also traveling to Harrisburg for the match. The two goalkeepers will be joined on the Reserve's trip by Academy teammates Bryan Windsor, Ricardo Perez, and Alex Braman - who have each already debuted with the Reserves.
"The speed of play, the speed of players, the strength of shots, the pace of the play is a huge step up," Epstein said of the difference from the Academy to the pros. "Even the time from taking a touch and taking a shot is so much quicker here than I was used to. So getting this training is definitely going to help me out (Saturday)."
Epstein's only other call up to the Reserves was also against Harrisburg on April 20 when he served as Ceus' backup in the 2-1 loss.
Notes: Ricardo Perez was the first Academy player to start a Reserve League match when he did so as a 15-year-old on May 1, 2011 against the Chicago Fire...Perez's 14 Reserve League appearances are the most-ever by an Academy player...Since the return of the Reserve League in 2011, eleven Academy field players have appeared in Reserve League matches, however no Academy goalkeeper has yet to appear in a Reserve League game.