Two broken bones in the arm of the one who keeps the team in all games is a hard tragedy to overcome. Especially when that keeper is arguably one of the best in the MLS. The injury to Matt Pickens was devastating, at least at the time. As the play developed and Pickens went up for the ball and his arm was headed, at first glance, like Diego Calderon's injury, it didn't look too serious, until we all watched the replay, and we all did. The arm bent in a gnarly fashion and we all cringed as Pickens hit the turf. I haven't heard the fans that quiet since the Rapids' final push in the 2010 MLS Cup game when Mac Kandji destroyed his knee to score the winning goal.
We all wondered who would step in for the downtrodden Pickens. Would it be the inconsistent Steward Ceus who had shown us how poor of a keeper he was, or the unproven rookie Clint Irwin. That was quickly answered when Oscar Pareja and Dave Dir took a chance on Irwin. It was the perfect start to a season for the Rapids to chance it on the young keeper, since it has seemed to be a season of risks thus far with many new players, both to professional soccer or to the MLS that the Rapids have added to the roster. Since he stepped into goal for Pickens, Irwin has proven time and time again that he may not be playing out of his mind, but right where he should be. The kid has talent, and we have no idea how high his ceiling is. Irwin has guessed correctly on every single penalty kick he has faced, narrowly missing several, saving one, and would have saved the shot that his the crossbar.
Clint Irwin is quickly proving that he is a consistent goal keeper and belongs with the best of them in this league.
An argument amongst the Rapids faithful has ensued after several of Irwin's starts and grows with each passing match. Who should start when Pickens is healthy? For me, the answer is simple: It is, and always has been Matt Pickens. Yes, Irwin is an incredible goal keeper and has made some incredible plays and has proven that he will have a successful career in the MLS in a measly amount of starts. He is decisive, which a wonderful attribute in a goal keeper. He keeps his focus on where it should be, and takes control of the oncoming attack.
The difference is, the defense is playing much better this season, holding their lines, and marking much better than they have during the past season. Pickens had to hold Colorado in many games by himself, oftentimes taking on a single attacker with no support, and we still were within one for the majority of the matches. Pickens has 26 clean sheets in the last three season. Let me repeat that. Pickens has... 26, 26 clean sheets in the last 3 seasons. Just think about that a moment. He is, in my opinion, a top 5 goal keeper in the league, and could, if he wanted to, could play in a higher tier league somewhere else in the world.
So, here's my question to those contemplating Irwin as the starter when Pickens returns. Can you say, at this point in Irwin's career, that he is a top five keeper in this league as Pickens is? Has he proven that he is a top five keeper in only 7 matches? I would say, it takes more than that to prove that he's one of the best. Longevity is a factor in that decision, and Pickens has that.
Also, keep this in mind. With Irwin playing so well, and playing with a reformed and rejuvenated defense in front of him, Pickens will come back and will play to prove that he is the starter. He is at the peak age for a keeper with enough wisdom and experience, and let me throw in one the most talented keepers in the league. He will come back less frustrated, which is where I think his head was when he went down, and will be playing on a totally different level from what we saw for the last part of the 2012 season.
There is no denying that Irwin is a fantastic keeper, and I hope he continues to be and will be the future of our club, but we should use what we have in Pickens while he's at peak age. He's earned that. Injury should not take a starter's spot, especially when they're as talented as someone like Pickens. I still truly believe Pickens gives the Rapids the best chance to win.
Irwin is our future, Pickens is our now.