It’s easy to forget that Kortne Ford is just 22 years old and in his second pro season. As the Colorado Rapids have pushed towards a younger and younger roster, there are a couple veterans in the back that have helped to bring order and expertise.
Perhaps the most exciting discovery of the 2018 season has been Edgar Castillo. Castillo and Ford’s styles couldn’t be more different, but there’s still a lot to learn from his left side. “He’s got national team ties. He’s been a lot of places. He’s a great guy with a great family. He’s a role model to a lot of the guys in the locker room,” Ford says. “As a player, he’s so attacking-minded—I would never try to take the things he does and try to do that. But his mentality on the field is something that you can definitely take away.”
For fans it’s been exciting to watch Castillo in the attack, regularly taking on four or five guys at a time and putting a shot on frame. But a left back penetrating deep in the final third leaves you susceptible to the counter-attack. What does it feel like to be back there while Edgar’s crashing forward? “I’m confident every time he starts to cut-in and dribble,” Ford says easily. “He’s dangerous for us. Those plays are good for us as a team and good in our system. We need more players to feel comfortable taking guys on like that. Any time he does it, I’m happy.”
Whether it’s your second year or your 10th, you’re going to get a lot of feedback from the Secretary of Defense, Tim Howard. “A lot of it is shaping, making sure we’re proactive with our shape. He tries to put guys in good places to [defend against] the counter-attack,” Ford explains. “Most of the time that fans see him going ballistic on the pitch he’s just being a good leader. He’s trying to put us in good positions and hold us accountable. Accountability is a huge part of playing consistently as a team. Guys know that on the pitch you’re accountable, and off the pitch you’re family.”
Sometimes you won’t find the right position or don’t make the right move. “It’s a game of split-second reactions,” Ford says. “You have a thought, he might disagree—but he’s very understanding of that. The same thing happens with him. He might make a decision in a split-second that ends up being the wrong decision, but that’s what he had to go with. We’re understanding of that just like he’s understanding of us.”
The price of offense
Part of the magic run in 2016 was keeping many clean sheets. In 2018, even in wins, it seems like one or two goals are frequently getting in.
Is that the price of playing a more offensive brand of soccer? “Yeah, I definitely think that’s part of it,” he agrees. “At the beginning of the season, it was the staff’s goal that we become a more attacking-minded team. To do that you have to build a foundation. That’s what we had to do this year. We want to have more possession in the game, maintain the ball, get good opportunities, and make it fun for our fans to come out and watch us. If you want to play pretty soccer like that, you have to start somewhere.”
During the early-summer losing streak, it didn’t seem like there was any foundation being laid. “You can always bunker down and have a shot at a clean sheet,” Ford said. “But if you give one goal away, then you have no chance of getting one back. The club was aware of that. The guys were aware of that. There were a lot of games [last year] where we played really well. But when we let a goal in off a deflection or something, it was hard to get one back because our system was to bunker down and defend. [This year] we wanted to change that.”
More aggressive formations and movements are going to lead to more counter-attacks and 1-on-1 defending. In that moment, “it’s kind of like ‘alright, this is it.’ When it’s 1-v-1 there’s responsibility on you,” he explains. “But if it’s a 2-v-1 or 3-v-1 it’s different. It’s kind of like a goalie facing a PK. For the goalie [in that situation], they’re not expected to save a PK—but if they do they’re a hero. That’s the way I approach those [overloaded] situations as a defender. This is a bad situation, they’re probably going to get a good chance from it, but if I can stop it then I know I’ve done my job.” Defenders don’t get a lot of the spotlight. Is there a part of you that feels like those opportunities are a chance to stand out? “100%,” Ford answers.
Making the most of 2018
There’s a lot to learn and just a few months left in a trophy-less season. “The biggest thing is to keep playing,” he says. “I’m not yet 100% [from the nerve injury]. I have to have a mentality and approach that I show up every day with no excuses. When I’m out there on the pitch I know that no one cares if you’re not 100%—you still have to find a way to perform. That’s what I’m focused on for the rest of the season—putting in a good shift and giving my all to the guys.”
The Rapids organization is increasingly relying on data to assess player performance. Ford pays attention to “tackles won, passes completed, mistakes made, goals scored [against us]. As a defender, my job is to keep the ball out of the back of the net. As a unit, not just individually, if you’re letting in goals then you have something to work on. But it’s not just one [metric], I look at the game as a whole.”
The near future
The next couple of seasons will determine the rest of his career. How do you get better in the offseason? “I’ll spend it the exact same way I did the last offseason,” Ford says. “I take about two weeks off right when it ends. Then I get in with the strength and conditioning staff at the University of Denver. They have easily one of the best strength and conditioning staffs in the country. Matthew Shaw there is just incredible. He selflessly invites a lot of the guys from the Rapids and other guys from the league, like Sam Cronin, Dillon Powers, and other players who are Colorado-based [to train at DU]. We can develop, get lifts in, do [cardio] fitness, all there at DU. I could drive to [DSGP] to do the same work, but there aren’t as many people to push you when guys go home and do their own thing in the offseason. The offseason is my favorite time of the year because it’s my time to prepare and get a one-up on guys who are lounging on the beach.”
If 2018 is the foundation, then 2019 hopefully begins the payoff. Ford is predicting a breakout year for Niki Jackson. “He’s a young player whose role wasn’t well defined this year. But he’s starting to find himself and make better decisions on and off the pitch. In training, he’s been really good. I think he’s a guy who will put in a good shift this offseason and come back and just be unreal.”
Meanwhile, there’s also the rebuilding of the USMNT. “I’m just waiting for my chance,” he says honestly. “I think I’ve performed consistently enough to get a shot. But the way that I play, the way that I approach training, isn’t going to change based on whether or not I get called up. I’m going to keep doing what I do, keep developing and getting better. If I keep working hard and playing well, then that day will come. And when it comes I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Talk to Kortne Ford and you see a young man with good physical tools, an outstanding mentality about the game, appreciation for the teammates and coaches around him, and a commitment to getting better every day. Here’s to hoping that all his dreams come true.