November 19, 2004, is a date ingrained in the minds of many US sports fans. It was on this day that the Malice at the Palace - the most infamous brawl in NBA history - broke out, involving players and fans at the Detroit Pistons versus Indiana Pacers game.
It is an occasion which changed the face of basketball in the United States, with increased security and a limit on alcohol sales. While this was unfolding inside The Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan, a baby boy was being born almost 1,300 miles away in Denver, Colorado.
On Saturday, 17 years and 113 days after a spotlight of shame was shone on basketball, the newborn brought into the world stepped into a spotlight of his own, only this time for all the right reasons.
Darren Yapi was born five days after D.C. United had defeated Kansas City Wizards inside the then-named Home Depot Center in Carson, California to claim the ninth version of MLS Cup.
On Saturday, young Yapi made his MLS debut, replacing Michael Barrios in the Colorado Rapids’ 2-0 home win over the team once known as Kansas City Wizards.
Signed as a homegrown player aged 16 years and 104 days on March 3, 2021, Yapi featured in the game day squad on a handful of occasions last season, seeing minutes with Colorado Springs Switchbacks of the USL Championship.
He spent part of the offseason in Europe, training at Arsenal and Belgian outfit, Club Brugge. But 374 days after putting pen to paper on a five-year contract, Yapi eventually set foot on the field at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park for his hometown team.
Ask those who have witnessed Yapi grow as to where the ceiling is for this young man, and the answer is similar, along the lines of ‘it’s as high as he wants it to be.’
He has quality players ahead of him, including Diego Rubio who bagged the ninth game-winning goal of his Rapids career, to move to joint-third on the club’s all-time list, behind Paul Bravo (12) and John Spencer (10).
Rubio’s strike set the Rapids on course for a second successive home win and clean sheet. Victory extended their unbeaten home run in the regular season to 18 games. This is one shy of the club record, set between March 12, 1996, and March 18, 2017.
Prior to Saturday, the Rapids had gone six games without a win against Sporting KC (0-3-3). Their last success had come at Children’s Mercy Park on September 21, 2019, which was their only win in 10 against SKC. Prior to this run, Colorado had won six out of seven.
Meanwhile, the last home win before this past weekend had been on May 27, 2017, when Kortne Ford scored in a 1-0 win. The Rapids are now unbeaten at home against Sporting KC in nine (5-0-4).
The previous home loss to their fellow MLS originals came on March 29, 2014, the last year of SKC being in the Eastern Conference. Dom Dwyer scored a stoppage-time winner for a 3-2 win for the visitors. Vicente Sanchez had scored twice from the penalty spot for the Rapids’ goals. Graham Zusi, Clint Irwin, and Drew Moor were the only players remaining from that game from either side.
And so, as one Rapids product begins his Major League Soccer career, another restarts his.
We began this piece discussing the MLS bow for a Rapids homegrown talent. We end with a tip of the hat to Kortne Ford, who made his long-awaited MLS return at the weekend, albeit in the colors of Kansas City. The resilient Ford last played an MLS game on October 21, 2018, and a goalless draw at San Jose Earthquakes, a match which handed Sam Vines his debut.
Ford, now 26, has endured more than most of his age, both on and off the field. Seeing him step in for Andreu Fontas with nine minutes remaining, returning to the highest level of club soccer in the United States, warmed the hearts of all who were there, and who have seen him steadfastly refuse to give up.
It was his first game at DSGP since the Rapids lost 3-0 to Atlanta United on September 15, 2018.
Who knows what the future has in store for Ford and Yapi. Who knows where their ceiling may be. Yapi will have enjoyed the moment, I’m sure. Ford, I suspect, will have acquired a much greater appreciation at being able to lace up those boots and play the game he adores.
But I wonder if, in the moment, Yapi was able to look down the field at the final whistle and see his fellow Rapids homegrown, a shining example of how talent alone is rarely enough without unwavering human spirit.