By now most Colorado Rapids fans know the story of goalkeeper Clint Irwin.
In February, after a few years of struggling through the lower divisions, Irwin beat out two other trialists during preseason to claim the Rapids' third goalkeeper spot. And since getting his chance to debut during a match in March, Irwin has not released his hold on the starting spot on his way to a 10-5-9 record with nine shutouts.
Irwin, however, hasn't forgotten where he came from. And, he wants others to gain a better understanding and appreciation of life in the lower divisions of the U.S. soccer pyramid.
Last month, the 24-year-old engaged in a twitter conversation with Pacific Standard magazine assistant editor Ryan O'Hanlon, who used to play soccer at Holy Cross University. O'Hanlon asked Irwin if he'd be interested in sharing his experience playing in the lower divisions with readers of the magazine.
Clint Irwin Profile
Irwin's column, "The Life of a Non-Millionaire Professional Athlete" was posted on PSMag.com on August 6 and quickly went viral. Even popular sports commentary website Deadspin highlighted the piece, among many media outlets that also shared it via twitter.
"It's something I like to do off the field to keep the other half of my brain engaged," Irwin told ColoradoRapids.com of his interest in writing. "My field of study was political science and philosophy so I did a lot of writing in college. It's something l like to do."
After graduating from Elon University, Irwin played for the Charlotte Eagles of the USL in 2010 and spent the 2011 season with Capital City FC in the Canadian Soccer League.
"On April 1st my birthday I signed a deal with Capital City FC for $500 a month and they are paying for my living expenses. Bonuses include $40 per win and $250 per various league leading statistics. I can’t express how happy I am to finally be somewhere." - Journal Entry, Feb. 20, 2011
In the column, Irwin shares that he used to keep a journal while playing in Ottawa.
"It was my own personal journal that I was keeping while I was up there," Irwin said. "It was kind of like an outlet for a lot of frustration that I had when I was there, but I haven't updated it. Every once in a while I'll write down some stuff just to kind of keep track of things."
The piece offers a revealing insight into the struggles he, and other players go through while trying to live their dream of playing professional soccer. It's a sharp contrast to what many think life as a pro is like, and that was one of Irwin's goals in writing the article.
"It was just to give a perspective that some people don't really see," he said. "Even talking to some of the guys here, I don't think that they realize how big of a deal it is for guys to make it out (of lower division). It's a whole different world and not many people have really heard about it. I didn't intend it to be like an expose. It was a look into what it's like (life in the lower divisions)."
In the article he describes how - at times - the players ate Chinese food for pregame meals. The Rapids keeper, meanwhile, had to move back in with his parents to save money. Irwin also writes of the need to stay in shape during the offseason, and the importance of having a fallback option in case one didn’t make it.
For Irwin, the story was intended to let the public know of the passion players in those leagues have for the game, and to remind the soccer community that there are plenty of diamonds in the rough ready to excel if given the opportunity.
"I think it's an important conversation for people who are thinking about how to grow this game," Irwin said. "I think that having a healthy lower division is needed if we want to reach the goals of winning the World Cup and having a top league in 2022, and all the big picture goals that everyone talks about. At the same time I don't want the lower division to get neglected. There's a lot of good players down there but it's hard for them to keep doing it year after year with some of those limitations that they're facing."
Read Irwin's story in Pacific Standard by CLICKING HERE.