Colorado Rapids

"I've enjoyed every single moment of it": Yarbrough lives for pressure, relishes leadership role

5.13.23_Rapids_Ellwood_908 (1)

After a save, William Yarbrough will point to try to shift players up the field as he looks to outlet the ball and spring an attack. The scowl on the goalkeeper’s face can easily be mistaken for anger, but the reality is it's the expression he wears as he’s dialed into the game.

If his backline made a mistake, they’ll know about it, but they’ll also know about every clearance, every run back, every block and every tackle. Yarbrough reminds them. He knows the importance of showing appreciation in the midst of stressful situations, to emphasize the good when things are going bad. Finding positives out of any situation is a principle he lives by.

“I'm a massive believer in throwing positive comments.”

It was the same when he first arrived to the Colorado Rapids.

His first day was at the beginning of March 2020. Five days after he set foot in the state, the COVID-19 pandemic forced an abrupt close to all activities. It was a difficult situation for most people, but Yarbrough had never lived in the country before. His living room didn’t even have a single piece of furniture because delivery services had been suspended. But he didn’t mind.

“The entire world was going through it,” Yarbrough said, “Instead of looking for the negatives out of the situation, it was ‘What positives can I find?’”

He found refuge in the remote training sessions. He filled parts of his house not with sofas and tables but with weights and training gear. Through all of the abnormalities of that season, Yarbrough stayed positive.

His attitude is one of the leading factors into his anointment as captain this season when teammate Jack Price fell to a season-long injury. His personality and leadership are keys to keeping the team together in wake of a struggling 2023 MLS season — one riddled with injuries, call-ups and struggling form. His humbleness is something always brought up when speaking about his character.

Yarbrough climbed the club’s record books. He broke the record for most clean sheets by a goalkeeper in club history. He broke 100 appearances for the club and is in the top three for most saves in team history. Even with the landmarks put in play, Yarbrough deflects all of it. “It’s a team effort,” he likes to quote.

It’s his humbleness and positivity that makes him endearing to his teammates and indispensable to his coaches. He doesn’t care about the individual records, but the first stat he’s happy to point to is the win column, the biggest validation to what his efforts should bring.

“That's what you train for so hard is to win games,” Yarbrough said. “So when we can deliver on the field, you know, it makes me pretty happy.”


Baseball and soccer.

Those are the two biggest sports in Mexico, William Yarbrough’s birthplace, and the two sports Yarbrough struggled to choose between growing up.

He knew soccer. Everyone in Mexico knows soccer, except for his dad that is. Rather, his dad was a big baseball fan and pitcher, so Yarbrough started playing baseball at an early age. Between him and his three brothers, they would spend their free time playing catch, doing batting practices with an occasional window breaking every now and then.

But Yarbrough wanted to explore the sport he saw so much around town and at every park he passed.

Almost 30 years later, he still can recall his very first soccer practice vividly.

It was in a nearby public park. The field wasn’t anything special, just a plot of dirt and one that he passed hundreds of times, but as a 5-year-old, he felt drawn to the environment.

“I don't know why. I still don't remember why,” Yarbrough said. “I remember showing up late for that practice, and they were doing shots on goal and I went straight into goal. And I don't know why. But I just remember going straight into goal and falling in love with it immediately.”

If a coach would ask him about any other positions of interests, he’d turn them down immediately. He didn’t care about scoring goals or being a defender. He wanted to be a goalkeeper.

Once he was 9, it was clear to everyone which sport he wanted to commit himself to. He would still play baseball with his brothers, but he had his mind set on being a professional goalkeeper. Everything about the sport, about the position spoke to him.

“Man, it's gonna sound crazy, but I just love the feeling of getting dirty, scraped up,” Yarbrough said.

Some kids like the importance of position. But for Yarbrough, his love of his role was a little more unorthodox. The feeling of fighting in the mud and dirt, the blue-collar nature behind every save. He relished in feeling dirty.

“In Mexico, at that age, when you're playing in just random teams, like, you're playing in dirt and rock fields, and times where there are fields with glass on them, and so I would constantly get scraped up, dirt from head to toes. And I just love the feeling of diving, stopping goals.

“I just remember liking that feeling of being so dirty that you felt like you've done a good enough job to keep balls from going into the back of the goal.”

Soccer was one of the few things that could get him out of bed. During the week, he’d try to sleep in as much as he could before school started. A spray bottle was the only idea his parents could think of to wake him up.

“Just spray water into the air,” Yarbrough said. “It would make me so mad, but that's the only way they could get me up to go to school.”

It was an entirely different story when it came to soccer. Weekend games got him excited. His shin guards, cleans, socks, jersey and shorts were stacked neatly on top of each other. He would wake up early for his games, so early that he would have to fib to his parents to get him to the games earlier.

“I would lie to my parents, because I always wanted to be the first one there,” Yarbrough recollected. “If I played at 8, we had to be there at 7:30. And I would tell them that the game started at 7:30, and I needed to be there at 7. And of course to show up, no one would be there and I'd get in trouble.”

Getting to the game before everyone else. Preparing nights before. Those were things spurred by his passion for soccer, but habits he took with him as his professional career blossomed.


William Yarbrough is aware of his age. He noted he likely only has a few years left of his career. But despite that, the 34-year-old goalkeeper is still improving.

At 6-2, Yarbrough is the prototypical build of a modern-day goalkeeper. He’s tall and lengthy. He’s physically explosive and quick with his feet. He excels with playing off his line and can play with the ball at his feet. Those were the attributes that drew the Rapids’ interests in him.

Coming from Liga MX club León, goalkeeping is fundamentally different from MLS or other leagues. The physical traits carried over, but the technical aspect was worlds apart.

“I think Liga MX is a league where the goalkeeper is asked to just keep the ball from the back of the net without really thinking about what they're doing with the ball, where it's going, what they're doing after with it,” Rapids Assistant and Goalkeeping Coach Chris Sharpe explained.

Yarbrough added: “How you do it, they don't care. It's more about keeping the ball out of the net.”

When he arrived with the club, it was the technical aspect of the game that Sharpe and the rest of the staff wanted to hammer home.

“We are asking him to cover some ground behind a backline, and we are asking him to close space quickly,” Sharpe said. “We saw a lot in Will that would help us in the profile we're looking for, for the goalkeeper.”

Molding the natural athleticism Yarbrough had meant dealing with the small things. The two of them would watch videos of Yarbrough years ago in his career, to videos from the latest game, going over the smallest details. Timing, positioning, decision making. The process was to keep him growing, sharper with every lesson.

“I’m getting up there in what could be the last few years of my career, and I still want to learn. I still want to see how I can improve my game,” Yarbrough said.

The characteristics of what makes him one of the top goalkeepers in MLS extends beyond just what he brings physically. A big part of the goalkeeper's game is his mentality. Goalkeepers are the final lifeline of a team, and oftentimes, the furthest from everyone on the field.

“Everyone says that the loneliest position is a goalkeeping position,” Sharpe said. “You know, you don't have anyone behind you to help you out. It's a stressful position.”

Yarbrough doesn’t deny the stress. To him, there’s only two reasons a player wouldn’t be stressed on game day. Either that player doesn’t care, or he’s lying. But for him, “pressure is just something that I think he enjoys, something he lives with,” Sharpe said.

“Once you make it to the level you dreamed of making it to, you hate game days,” Yarbrough explained. “Game days are stressful, man. From start to finish, right when you wake up, you're making sure you're getting the right nutrition, hydration. You know, you're analyzing film game day.

“You start to feel that sort of tension, and the adrenaline starts pumping a bit. You try to nap, you can't. And then game day, you just know that there's no room for mistakes.”

The stress can overwhelm a lot of players. Many do cave under the pressure and tension of a match day. But the mental fortitude Yarbrough built to combat the stress stems from the habits he built growing up, the habits he continues to build now.

Yarbrough has never cheated himself. On a burning hot summer day or a rainy autumn morning, it’s easy to take shortcuts in practice. One play off. One minute for a break. But Yarbrough gives everything, as much as he can, when he can. That game day stress is nothing to the preparation he put in days before.

“That's where the mental piece comes into play,” Yarbrough said. “My thought processes is if I give 100% of myself every day from Monday to Friday, not accepting anything less than 100% for myself on the training pitch and always willing to learn something new and always trying to be the best one out there, come game day, you just have to trust that all the work and all the preparation you've done throughout the week is going to show on the weekend.

“When you can calm yourself down enough to trust the work that you put in every day and forget about those emotions, those feelings you're feeling, things are gonna go well for you.”


It struck Chris Sharpe. As he talked about Yarbrough and what he brings to the team, a thought creeped up.

“This is funny, actually, I was talking about this yesterday. The culture of the club for the goalkeepers is leadership,” Sharpe said. “(Rapids Academy) Under-14 goalkeeper's the captain. Under-15 goalkeeper's the captain. Under-17 goalkeeper's the captain. Abe (Rodriguez) is the captain of R2 when he plays, and Will's the captain of the first team.

“The club culture for the goalkeepers is leadership, is communication, is owning the position, is helping the backline, and helping the guys in front of them.”

Yarbrough embodies all of that.

On the pitch, he’s shouting so everyone, especially the backline can hear. If a mistake happens, he’s shouting their way to let them know, “Hey, you got my back, I got yours.” To him, that’s how the bond forms between defense and goalkeeper.

Communication is something Yarbrough prioritizes. That carries off the field as well. He cares about his teammates off the pitch, often asking them how they or their family are. He wants to know what they do for fun. He’ll take them out for dinner on occasion.The team is his “second family,” as he likes to put it, and bonding with them is just a natural part of the process.

“I believe that the better relationship you have off the field, it shows on the field,” Yarbrough said.

The leadership and care he has for others are marquee traits for him. Growing with a team is a part of soccer, and he loves every aspect of the game. He lives for the pressure, and he’s passionate about winning. Records might not mean much to him, but he’s climbing the table in every goalkeeping stat. As he leaves his mark with the club, he reflects.

“I've always said, if age and my body doesn't retire me, the day I stopped enjoying this is a day I'll step aside. And so to this day, I've enjoyed every single moment of it.”