It’s often claimed that games may be won by strikers, but championships are forged on a solid defense.
So, forget about the multi-million-dollar front men slotting the ball into the ol’ onion bag, or even the midfield maestros pulling the strings from the center of the park; successful sides start at the back, and that will be music to the ears of Rapids fans.
In 2016, when the Rapids fought their way to the Western Conference Championship game, they went unbeaten at home in the regular season for the first time with an 11-0-6 record. At DICK’S Sporting Goods Park, they gave up just seven goals in 17 games, at a league-record average 0.41 goals per game.
So far in 2022, the Rapids have given up only the one goal in six games. That goal was from the penalty spot, scored by Real Salt Lake. In other words, they have yet to concede in open play at home.
Averaging 0.16666667 goals against per home game, the Rapids could very well be even more stingy defensively than they were in 2016.
I’m sure head coach Robin Fraser will point to this being a collective effort. After all, we often see Diego Rubio, Jonathan Lewis, and - more recently - Gyasi Zardes pitching in defensively.
But those whose primary role is to protect the Rapids’ net are worthy of singling out.
Goalkeeper William Yarbrough has five shutouts this season - all at home. He has 22 in total, from 58 appearances. That is good enough for fifth on the club’s all-time list, one behind US legend Tim Howard, who managed his total from 100 appearances.
Yarbrough leads the club’s goalkeepers with an average of 1.10 goals against per game, followed by Bouna Coundoul (1.16), Joe Cannon (1.26), and Matt Pickens (1.27).
With Saturday’s 2-0 win over LAFC, Yarbrough also moved to the top of the win percentage pile - above Marcus Hahnemann - with his number sitting at 0.612. With Yarbrough in between the pipes, the Rapids boast a 27-14-17 record.
The back line has sometimes had three, often had five, and occasionally seen four. The names and number of players has switched around, but the cohesive caulk has been constant.
Keegan Rosenberry is Mr. Consistent. The man who cuts and styles his own hair - and that of teammates - is always well presented, with an acute positional sense, an uncanny knack of when to go forward and when to stay put, and someone who has played every minute.
Though he tends to his defensive duties first, let us not forget the game at FC Dallas last month, during which he attempted a career-high seven shots. He now has more shots after 11 games of 2022 than he took in 30 games during 2021.
Lalas Abubakar started his 100th MLS game on the weekend. He loves the physical contact, is tenacious, brave, and is very much the team’s enforcer when tempers become a little frayed. His big smile off the field belies the fierce competitor which emerges once the whistle blows.
Alongside Abubakar for most games this season has been wily Scotsman Danny Wilson. Here is a fella as honest as the day is long. He told me during a sit-down chat earlier in the season that fans had not seen the best of him the first few seasons. That being said, you don’t get signed by Liverpool and play for a club like Rangers without having something about you.
Wilson can be vocal when he feels the need, but he now has veteran status and prefers to allow his actions to speak louder than his words. His wand of a left foot can pick out the toe of a teammate from anywhere on the park. He is also that calming influence, directing the traffic.
Auston Trusty has just a handful of games left in the number five jersey before his time expires, and he moves from the relative calm of Colorado to the fishbowl which can be England and Premier League giants Arsenal.
The 23-year-old was something of a slow burner on arrival in the Centennial State. He managed just five starts in eight appearances in the truncated season which was 2020. Last season, the former Philadelphia Union defender played every minute of his 33 appearances, bagging one goal and a career-high three assists.
Quick and agile, Trusty is a towering figure in the air, good on the ball, and with an air of composure well beyond his years. With London calling, let’s savor these final few moments with the talented Trusty.
And then take your pick from Lucas Esteves, Steven Beitashour, Gustavo Vallecilla, and Drew Moor.
Esteves - just 21 - is the one more likely to be seen galloping to link up with the forward-thinking players. He has three assists in 10 appearances. He covers plenty of ground, and while the Rapids’ defensive third may be where he can be seen doing much of his defensive work, you’ll also find him snapping at the heels of opponents higher up the field, forcing turnovers or a swift retreat.
If Rosenberry is Mr. Consistent, then Beitashour is Mr. Reliable. A steady, safe pair of hands who can operate on the right or left side of defense, and someone Fraser can throw into any situation. He is hugely experienced, disciplined defensively, and keeps things very simple.
Both Vallecilla and Moor have one start in four appearances. The former is seen as a replacement for Trusty, once he heads overseas. He is also quick, aggressive, and athletic. Moor is the steady, loyal servant who can help lock things down defensively as the clock counts down and things may get a touch tense.
All in all, a unit which has a bit of everything, and one that gives its all while offering up very little.