To be a goalkeeper at the highest level of the sport requires a certain kind of fearlessness. Putting your body on the line to clear a free kick, charging full speed to meet oncoming defenders. No pads, no helmet. Many of the plays made by good ‘keepers come off as routine and Rapids’ second-year ‘keeper William Yarbrough is no exception - many times per match he's required to sniff out a potential threat by placing his body in harm’s way to keep the ball out of the net.
Early in the second half Wednesday night against Austin FC, Yarbrough charged off his line to clear a ball at the edge of his penalty area. He was first to the ball but collided with his teammate, Lalas Abubakar, in the process. The two knees met and Yarbrough took the worst of it. He was down and looked as if he might need to be replaced.
He somehow stayed in the match and ended up making several key plays to secure a 3-0 win and his 11th shutout of the season. That number saw him pass Joe Cannon and Clint Irwin for the most individual clean sheets in a single season in club history. It was a moment and a performance that likely will go unnoticed across MLS, but his head coach and teammates took notice.
"Everyone is know talking about Will because of the number of shutouts," head coach Robin Fraser said. "What you guys don't see is the person and the leader that he is and the character that he is in the locker room and how important he is to this team aside from the zeroes on the scoreboard there's so much more to him than just what you see in terms of making saves and getting shutouts. He's a top class person and a top class goalkeeper."
On a night when the Rapids needed a big performance to get back in the win column, they were stout defensively as they have been at home all season. Yarbrough was only forced into four saves on eight shots from the visitors. The home side controlled the match from the opening whistle and at the end of Wednesday night, they sit third in MLS for goals allowed with 24. During the Rapids’ current 13-match home unbeaten run, Yarbrough has conceded only eight goals. He's also let in only eight scores during the current 12-match unbeaten run overall.
"It was a big game for us, we had come off two home draws and we knew that we needed to do something different," Yarbrough said after the win. "We knew we needed to change the gear and try to get a good result at home with our fans. Everyone was mentally locked in from minute one to minute 90."
The current Rapids record for total shutouts in a season by a team is 16, a number that was set by Zac MacMath and Tim Howard during the 2016 season. That total appears within reach for Yarbrough and the 2021 Rapids with eight games remaining, including three at home. Rapids fans will hope Yarbrough’s knee heals quickly and he can extend his own club record Sunday in Seattle.
"It's not only the defense getting the clean sheets it's the entire team," Yarbrough said. "The attention to detail in training sessions and the work everyone puts in during the 90 minutes of games. It starts with the forwards all the way to the keeper and I think it shows the chemistry this team has."