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The Daily Wave: The Curious Case Of The Back-up In Professional Sports

The Back-up is always better than the starter, or so it seems in the professional sports landscape. The Rapids are dealing with this now too.


The Daily Wave is a slice of opinion from a Burgundy Wave contributor, released every weekday morning.

When teams struggle today in professional sports fans start to call for change. We see it every year in the NFL. When a team struggles the first change that fans start to call for is for the back-up quarterback to get playing time. We saw it here in Denver just 2 seasons ago. Tim Tebow was the back-up to Kyle Orton; when Orton started the season poorly fans started to call for the change. Most of us know what happened with the rest of that season; Tebow led the Broncos to the playoffs and a first round win.

In Minnesota this year when Christian Ponder struggled for the Vikings; fans started to call for Joe Webb. Ponder finished the regular season, but Webb played the playoff game and fell on his face.

The Colorado Rapids are experiencing this very same thing right now. At the end of last season Matt Pickens got injured and Steward Ceus came in and gave the Rapids 2 wins. After the season Ceus was re-signed by the Rapids and fans were excited because the team now had a back-up keeper for the future.

Ceus' two wins were through clean sheets against Chivas USA and Houston Dynamo. While the Dynamo was a playoff team last year, they had already clinched a playoff spot and played the back-ups in that game. Then came the season opener this year. Ceus looked completely lost out on the pitch. He made bad decision after bad decision, and fans started to fear what would happen if Pickens was out for an extended period of time.

Pickens started the second game of the season and looked not one hundred percent. Pickens then started the next game and unfortunately broke his arm on a freak play. Clint Irwin than came into the game and admittedly played a hell of a game for the circumstance he was thrown into. Irwin made very good decisions during the game, especially when you think that it was the first leg of the Rocky Mountain Cup.

Irwin's second game came just this past week against defending MLS Cup champions Los Angeles Galaxy. Another game where Irwin played against a high caliber high quality team; even though LA was playing without Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, and Omar Gonzalez. Irwin looked very good in the net giving up the only goal of the game on a penalty kick that LA got due to Drew Moor's penalty in the box.

Now that this short history lesson is done, this is where things should start to connect with my earlier argument. The other day on twitter people started bringing up that Irwin should be the starter and that Pickens isn't actually that good. One stat that was thrown out was that Pickens' save percentage for the last three years is 68% while the top 5 keepers in the league average 73%. While granted those numbers do say something I don't feel like they tell the whole truth. Pickens in the last three years has had 26 clean sheets for the Rapids. Pickens may not be the top keeper in all of the MLS, but lets not discount what he has done playing with an average at best defense.

Irwin has looked very successful; even with losing against LA, in his time so far in the Rapids net. But lets be serious here; there are more examples of back-ups that have failed than back-ups that have succeeded. I continue to hope that Irwin does well while he is in net for the Rapids, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.