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Rapids goalkeeper coach Chris Sharpe forges his own American dream

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John A. Babiak - @Photog_JohnB

The game of soccer grabbed hold of Chris Sharpe as a youngster back in Australia and has given him many things since then. He matured living a world away from his native country pursuing his dream at a young age, furthered his career in the US, and is now building a business and family in Colorado.

The self-proclaimed “chunky kid” grew up in Sydney, Australia, with his parents and younger sister like most kids. He loved all types of sports, giving them a go until found what he was good at and followed his talents as he got older. “I started playing soccer when I was five. A kid of all sports—I tried Rugby Union, I played cricket, I played tennis, soccer, basketball—I tried everything. As I got older, it ended up being tennis and soccer,” he says.

Chris explains how he found his way between the posts, a path that eventually led him to become the Goalkeeper Coach for Tim Howard and the Colorado Rapids.

“There is no school sports—you play sports at school but there’s nothing to represent a team like that. It was all club sports. My old man said to me, ‘’look, you have to choose here pal. I can’t keep driving you all over for both things’, so I chose soccer. I loved tennis, I was good at it, but soccer just had my heart.” Rapids fans only know Chris as a man focused on goalkeeping, but he ended up in that position the way a lot of kids do-be default. “I moved to goalkeeper when I was 12. I was the chunky kid, we needed a goalkeeper at the time, and my old man was the coach at the time said you want to get in goal? I was hooked.”

“At 14-15 the chunky kid went away, so at 16, my old man said you’ve got to choose. From there on, I made the national team camps and it grew from there.” Chris would soon pursue his dream of playing the game at the top level and earned that opportunity shortly thereafter. “I left home at 16—I got an opportunity at Aston Villa,” Sharpe explains.

“From that trial, it turned into a 3-year contract at Blackburn Rovers. It was good. Mom didn’t want me to go, but Dad said let him go do what he wants to do. I went in early 1998 and started my contract in July from there. It was everything I wanted. All I wanted to do was play pro soccer. To have the opportunity to go into a Premier League club on trial, I said, ‘Let’s go”! It was a wonderful experience and I haven’t looked back, to be fair.”

Chris admits it wasn’t easy as a teenager traveling across the globe on his own, but he was focused and determined to make his way Europe. “It was intimidating at the time. I had two suitcases and it was off to Heathrow London on my own at 16. What a way to learn up, grow up quickly? I went away and came back at Christmas time, my friends said you’re different. I had to be because I was on my own.”

“After my two years at Blackburn, I went to Southampton,” he continues. “I lost the appeal for my work permit so I went back to Australia and played in the A-League for a year. From there, I ended up going to Chesterfield in League 1 England, then I spent 3.5 years in Denmark and then came here.”

Following that whirlwind tour, Sharpe explains how an acquaintance associated with the Rapids paved his way to Colorado. “In 2003, the A-League went into administration. I was hopefully going into the Olympic camp, so I reached out to some friends I had here in Colorado (Assistant Coach John Murphy). Murph and I stayed in contact during my time in Denmark, and when my contract finished, I gave him a call and said I’d like to come back to the USA. I came back in August of 2007, had just had an operation on my knee to clean stuff out, so I did my rehab here from September-November. January 2008 I got offered a contract here.” The rest is history, as Chris has now been with the organization since that time making him one of the longest, if not the longest, tenured employees within the club.

As his playing days in MLS were ending, the workaholic in Chris needed to find something to stay busy, but it had to be something that he wouldn’t take away from his continuing focus on the Rapids. “As a player you’ve got a lot of spare time,” admits Sharpe. “I’m not a video-game guy, and to be honest, I didn’t graduate high school—I left early. Going to college just wasn’t something that interested me. I had a very close friend to me here in Colorado who had a soccer academy (CORE).” CORE Soccer Academy is a coaching/training organization based in Colorado for youth players.

“There was nothing for goalkeepers so I jumped on it. It started with little groups and kind of grew. He gave me the goalkeeping side of his company, CORE, and it just went through the roof. We’ve got about 550-580 goalkeepers in Colorado, all levels U-6 through college-aged kids, we run seasonal camps. Youth soccer is so competitive, (CORE) is a place I wanted kids to come and forget about the pressures of club soccer and high school soccer and just train—just concentrate on purely goalkeeping,” explains Sharpie. “The idea was just better goalkeeping in the state in general.”

Those small programs have now expanded and given Chris a rewarding business outlet that he has grown with and sees the growth of kids also taking off. “The most enjoyment I’ve got out of it were the parents saying, ‘wow, the difference in my kid’, not only on the football field but in confidence as a human, that is worth everything.”

Sharpe has turned that success and focus on young goalkeepers into another entrepreneurial opportunity helping both CORE and his kids at the same time. “About three years ago, a buddy of mine from Australia, entrepreneurial-type, said you’ve got 160 goalkeepers at camp here, why are you not making gloves? He did all the back end work and three of us went into business together, him, my assistant director for CORE, and myself.”

“It took us a couple of years to put all the designs together and about January 2017 we got off the ground and running. Gloves are expensive and being a goalkeeper is expensive, because you’ve got to buy an extra jersey, buy extra gloves. If you’re a decent goalkeeper, the gloves are $120-150 so we made the gloves’ quality at a higher level but brought it a whole peg down (pricewise). It was a venture based on helping families out and giving kids something they could take ownership in.”

The success has been a bit overwhelming, according to Chris. “We sold out the first 500 pairs in three months and then we had a second order come through, we’ve got a website up, and it’s been really good for the kids.”

However, Sharpe insists being on the ground floor and nurturing a goalkeeper culture in Colorado has meant a lot to him. “The best part for me is you go out on the weekend at DSGP, there’s 4-5 fields of soccer games the goalkeepers are playing against each other train with each other and 3 out of the 4 of them are wearing the CORE gloves. There’s now a sense of goalkeeper community in there. Ten years ago, no one really wanted to be a goalkeeper. Now, our biggest groups at camps are full-time goalkeepers because there’s something there now for them to get better at the whole way through.”

Another endeavor Chris has made good upon is earning his US Citizenship in early 2018, and now holds a dual-passport for both Australia and the United States. He admits it wasn’t something he’s dwelled on for years or made his life’s ambition, but rather something that just came about after being in Colorado so long and realizing he cared about his own family’s future going forward.

“My wife is from Colorado and I’ve been a green card holder since 2011. I never really thought about being a US citizen, to be fair. I just thought about renewing my green card and that was fine. Honestly, I got scared with the last presidential election. My wife and I got talking about the election, and I know enough about but not totally clued-in on, so I started taking notice on what’s been going on.”

Chris wanted to start planning ahead for his family. “I did some research to make sure I could hold dual citizenship and what it would mean for kids, so I thought why not? It was a 10-month process from the day I filed to the day I got accepted as a US citizen. In January of 2018, I did the ceremony.”

Sharpe was adamant on how moving the experience was, seeing people join him in becoming Americans. “(Taking the pledge) it was unbelievable. There were 47 different countries and 52 different people sitting in the room. I’ve been here for a long time, and it was amazing to see how much it meant to people. For some people, it was absolute freedom. It was amazing to watch and almost brought you to tears to see how happy some of these people actually were. There were two brothers in front of me, from Iran or Iraq, it was like tears of freedom. It was really cool.”

Cool indeed. “For me, I was proud to become an American citizen, but I’ve been for so long I already felt like one. It was more so touching to see what it meant for the people in that room that day.” Rapids fans are lucky to have Chris Sharpe around for the long-haul now, and as proud fellow Americans can legitimately say he’s ‘one of us’.