Following the 0-0 draw at San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday, here’s one to consider: How long before Jürgen Klinsmann casts his eye in the direction of Clint Irwin?
I’m not saying Irwin’s phone ought to be ringing this very minute. After all, Jürgen has the small matter of a World Cup roster on his mind. No, what I’m suggesting, is that once the Brazil dust has settled, and attention turns to the Gold Cup and 2018 World Cup cycle, then Irwin must surely be in the frame.
His performance on Wednesday night was, for me, the best we’ve seen from the 25-year-old. He punched, parried, palmed, blocked, flew and flung himself at everything San Jose could throw at him. Now, although we saw the best of Irwin at San Jose, it’s arguably what we always felt he was capable of. After all, he’s been a revelation since bursting into MLS just over 12 months ago. He is, in my humble opinion, one of the best young stoppers in North America and it’s high-time the USMNT's head coach took note.
I hear other names being mentioned as possible successors/understudies to Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. It may be because the keepers previously discussed are at what could be classed ‘bigger market teams’. My counter-argument to that would be that, of those so-called ‘bigger’ teams, LA Galaxy and Toronto FC failed to find a way past Irwin. Indeed, who’d bet against a USMNT defense containing the names of Irwin, Shane O’Neill and Chris Klute in the not-too-distant future?
Irwin’s heroics were certainly needed in midweek because, although the Rapids had their share of chances, they were not nearly as clear-cut as the Quakes, who will feel they deserved more than the point gained. For the Rapds, distribution and link-up play were again stop-start, while fatigue was a factor second half for players short of competitive minutes. I was sat waiting for the spark which would have ignited the visitors, but it – sadly – failed to materialize.
Let’s be honest, this was a San Jose side, thankfully minus some of the silliness seen at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, which generated the greater opportunities in the final third and posed a greater threat, but the Rapids' coaching staff will away and ponder on the performance, picking over the plays to see where improvements can be made.
Rapids head coach, Pablo Mastroeni, was quoted earlier in the season as saying: “I don't want to be a small market team. And we definitely don't have a small market mentality.”
It’s the ‘think big, aim big’ approach which has seen the side take maximum points from LA Galaxy, Portland Timbers, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps, as well as points at New York Red Bulls and now San Jose Earthquakes.
As we welcome spring across Colorado, then we also watch as this team begins to blossom. Take the last two games. Wholesale changes made to the line-up in both the 1-0 victory over the Galaxy and second successive stalemate against San Jose. Both were bold moves by Mastroeni, but led to four points being bagged by the Rapids.
Wednesday’s 0-0 draw in northern California was a struggle, make no mistake, but new systems were employed, giving players vital minutes and keeping others fresh for the Mother’s Day meeting with Chivas USA (TICKETS).
Mastroeni is – as he said he would – using the full depth of his roster. Only one player has featured in every minute of every Rapids game this season, and that is skipper Drew Moor. The coach has not fielded the same starting XI for two fixtures in a row, but the team sits fourth in the Western Conference, with 15 points from nine games played.
At some stage, when back to two fixtures a week and with healthy bodies, a pattern may emerge with personnel but, by then, you would hope that the depth has been tested suitably, so when the late-season crunch comes, the Rapids players all have minutes under their belts and will be ready if called upon.
The goalless tie at Buck Shaw Stadium was the fifth time in nine games that the Rapids have kept a clean sheet. Rookie John Berner was on duty for the first of those, the 2-0 home win over the Timbers. The most recent four shutouts have all been on Irwin’s watch.
The clean sheets are impressive, not so netting just three goals in five games. Yes, the MLS season is long – a marathon, not a sprint, as they say – and the team builds toward the business end of the campaign. And, already, we’ve seen encouraging qualities in this Rapids side – resilience, flexibility, defensively sound (Seattle aside), with a blend of youth and experience, determined, unified and with a fantastic spirit.
But, for moms everywhere this Sunday, go on … pop a few in the onion bag.