COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — One year ago, Chris Klute had just joined the Colorado Rapids from the Atlanta Silverbacks of the NASL, coming on loan thanks to a recommendation from Silverbacks technical director Eric Wynalda.
Klute was seen as a developmental project then, a little-known 22-year-old whom the Rapids could eventually groom for a contributing role.
Little did Klute or the Rapids know that the unheralded defender would blossom, in just a few short months, into the team’s long-awaited answer at left back. After years of turnover at the position, Klute was handed the starting left back role on March 30 and has not looked back, starting 26 consecutive league contests.
To put that in perspective, no Rapids left back had started more than 12 consecutive games since Jordan Harvey was selected by Philadelphia in the 2009 Expansion Draft.
Head coach Oscar Pareja said he has seen marked improvement in Klute throughout the season, identifying the Dallas-area native's improved awareness and consistency as two key reasons for Klute's success.
“I think he’s more aware of what’s happening in the 360 [degrees] and what’s happening beyond the play-by-play of the game,” Pareja said on Tuesday. “He’s being proactive defensively, he understands more little things, and that’s the best part.”
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Pareja wants to keep pushing Klute to improve his all-around game, with a focus on increasing the offensive promise of a player who already leads the team (and ranks second among MLS defenders) with seven assists. While Klute has worked hard on prioritizing his defensive responsibilities before pushing forward, Pareja eventually wants to see the speedy, 6-foot-1 defender move farther inside and become a direct threat on goal.
“Chris needs to start incorporating [the ability to move inside and score] when he can,” Pareja said. “But with him, I don’t overload responsibilities, or when we talk about these possibilities going forward, I don’t want to overload him. We like to go one step at a time with him. We can’t just forget that these guys just have 20-plus games under their belt, and the growing is there, and the future is bright for them as well.”
Despite his omission from MLSsoccer.com 24 Under 24 list, Klute's play has generated buzz that he could soon be called up to the US national team, possibly during the first camp of 2014 in January. But with the Rapids in the thick of the playoff chase — currently fifth in the Western Conference with four games remaining — Klute insists that his head is focused on nothing but making the postseason.
“It’s nice, people noticing how I’m doing in the field, but it’s not something I’m going to worry about,” Klute told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “I’m not really too concerned about that. My first priority is the team, playoffs, and maybe winning the MLS Cup. That’s where my head is right now.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.