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Rapids’ keeper William Yarbrough’s trek from central Mexico to the Mile High City

How Yarbrough went from Pee Wee baseball to the top of LIGA MX to an out-of-the-blue text message that brought him to Colorado.

John A. Babiak - @Photog_JohnB

William Paul Yarbrough Story hails from Aguascalientes, Mexico, a metropolis that boasts thin air, historic plazas and cathedrals, and the Baroque Government Palace with its impressive arches. Located 6,194 feet above sea level, the city is well-known in Latin America for its plethora of therapeutic hot springs and spas, friendly residents, distant mountain peaks, and where an adept futbolista was born and raised.

Yarbrough was born on March 20, 1989, to Stacey Story and Lee Yarbrough. His mother and father emigrated to Aguascalientes from the United States in 1985 to serve as Christian missionaries and establish new churches in rural and urban communities. William is the third of their four sons and during his interview with the Burgundy Wave, said he inherited his mother’s tenderness plus a bit of his father’s drive to excel.

As a young boy, Yarbrough grew up being exposed to both Mexican and American cultures and lifestyles. A self-described “hyperactive” youth, he channeled some of his excess energy into family-familiar sports. His dad, a Texan by birth, played high school baseball in Southern California. He enrolled his sons in a local Pee Wee baseball club, the other popular sport in Mexico, where young Will played first base because “I was tall and I could bat.”

In his neighborhood, children played fútbol on the city streets, at school, and in parks. Intrigued by the game, he took interest and joined a local club. At his first training session with the U-6 Club de Fútbol Gallos Hidrocálidos de Aguascalientes — more affectionately known as the Roosters — the blue-eyed, blonde-haired Yarbrough gravitated to a wide-open spot in front of the goal frame.

It is fair to say that he never looked back at this casual decision. As a kid with an abundance of unforeseen potential, Yarbough said his parents “never pushed me into anything, but once I started to play soccer, they knew right away that I really loved the sport.”

William’s Yarbrough’s parents are his biggest fans.
Photo Credit: Lee Yarbough

As a teen, he played Club de Formación Mandyn, named after its founder, Armando “Mandyn” Gonzalez. Yarbrough credits Gonzalez for taking him under his wing and — along with several goalkeeping coaches — developing him into a capable goalkeeper. Gonzalez showcased the rising netminder in hopes of finding age-appropriate development opportunities and academy-level tryouts. Nearly two decades later, Gonzalez and Yarbrough still maintain their relationship, though today, Gonzalez serves as Yarbrough’s business agent. He represented the keeper’s interests during the recent negotiations with the Rapids.

As a 16-year-old, Yarbrough won a tryout with C.F. Pachuca’s U-17 academy side. The highly respected Club de Futbol Pachuca is one of the oldest soccer organizations in the Americas. They kicked off their very first season in 1901. The club was one of the founding members of the Mexican Primera Division. Coincidentally, In 2010, C.F. Pachuca and the Colorado Rapids launched a partnership called the Tuzos Soccer Academy at Dick’s Sporting Good Park. The program’s goals included offering both on-field instruction for boys and girls, and using soccer as a gateway to teach the importance of human values.

Ascent in Liga MX and the USMNT

Within Pachuca’s vast developmental system, affiliations, and national notoriety, Yarbrough bloomed into one of the top goalkeeping prospects in Mexico. In 2007, the dual citizen received a call-up to Mexico’s U-20 national team.

His big promotion occurred during 2012-2013 when he was loaned to Club León. The keeper played just nine games; however, made a resounding impression as both a field leader and goalkeeper. He vaulted into the role of León’s full-time keeper and maintained that distinction into 2018. In the 2013-2014 split seasons he helped his side win both the Apertura and Clausura Liga MX titles, quickly becoming a fan favorite.

In 2015, then-USMNT senior team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann invited Yarbrough to his upcoming evaluation camps. Pleased to receive the call-up, he joined the likes of Colorado native Ethan Horvath and David Bingham ahead of friendlies against Mexico, Switzerland, and New Zealand.

In a 2016 interview with the Miami Herald, the bilingual Yarbrough said in Spanish, “I am very happy and grateful to have this chance, and very motivated. This is a huge opportunity for me to make my mark with [Tim] Howard and [Brad] Guzan not here. It’s a privilege and honor to come up and represent the U.S. I feel flattered and honored every time I get called into camp. I am blessed to have dual citizenship.”

Klinsmann put him to use and Yarbrough earned all three of his U.S. caps in quick succession. He came in off of the bench for a draw versus Switzerland and in a win over his home country. He made the starting XI against New Zealand and helped Team USA earn a 1-1 draw.

Also in 2016, he led Liga MX in both saves and shut-outs and supported his teammates’ efforts to make it into the league’s Champions playoff stage.

During the 2018-2019 season, Yarbrough reluctantly began to settle into a role as the team’s reserve goaltender. His stellar career in Liga Mx, during which he generated 48 shutouts over the course of 192 matches, seemed to be coming to a close. The change in playing status motivated him to begin to look north of the border for opportunities within MLS.

Eyes on MLS

Both the San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo expressed interest in Yarbrough, but he stayed put with Club León. It was not long after those potential transfers fizzled out when he received a text message out of the blue from Rapids’ goalkeeping coach, Chris Sharpe. The longtime Rapids assistant expressed interest in Yarbrough’s plans to find a new home team. “It took off from there, I am thankful for it did,” Yarbrough said.

That text began a lengthy dialogue that led to the one-year loan arrangement between León and the Rapids beginning in March 2020. But before agreeing to the loan, Yarbrough spoke with Diego Rubio and fellow U.S. teammates Kellyn Acosta and Keegan Rosenberry about the club and team culture. Once in Colorado, even the recently departed Tim Howard chipped and communicated with him about the team and staff. He filled Yarbrough in on the environment that he was walking into, and then made certain his transition was going smoothly and that it was meeting his expectations.

On a recent phone call with Burgundy Wave, Yarbrough had nothing but good things to say about his growing relationship with Chris Sharpe. “Sharpe is a great guy. He knows how to approach his keepers and how to handle that relationship. He is good at reading your body language. He knows when you are stressed, when you’re good, when you’re tired. The thing that I like the most in what we are similar in is our attention to detail. We strive for perfection in everything we do. No matter what the drill is, we are always looking for perfection... the great communication that we have is very helpful. And all the attention to detail is very similar to my mindset.”

John A. Babiak - @Photog_JohnB

Getting his chance during the MLS is Back Tournament

Yarbrough was pressed into action in Florida during MLS is Back play when Rapids’ mainstay goalkeeper, Clint Irwin, suffered a concussion. The newcomer stepped in and rose to the opportunity he was given, quickly adjusted to the MLS style of play, and continued to start all but one game for the rest of the season. He ended his trial year with a record of 6W-4L-4T in regular play, with four clean sheets. Yarbrough also started in the club’s lone playoff match against Minnesota United.

Between his play, competitive nature, and accomplished career in Mexico, the Rapids Front Office was obviously convinced to bring him back for the long-term.

And so on February 2, 2021, Colorado Rapids Executive VP & General Manager, Pádraig Smith announced that they had signed the 6’3’’ keeper to a three-year contract with an option for the 2024 season. Smith said, “Bringing him [Will] back on a permanent basis was one of our top priorities this off-season and reinforces what we believe to be one of the best goalkeeping groups in the league.”

Yarbrough said that “from day one it was a combination of things that helped me sign to a long-term deal. The focus and commitment of the guys really stood out to me. We were thrown so many negatives last year with start-stop-start of play a couple of times during the season, and to see how everyone reacted to it and to see how everyone got back to work — that was huge for me.”

He continued, “And with regards to our of play, I love the fact we are always aggressive, we take risks, despite how the opposing team is pressing us, we build out from the back. And how we transition from defense to attacking that is so quick, with so many fast players that we have, I just love it... a few things here and there, when you add it up it made it easy to make this decision, and dealing with great human beings was key to me.”

Leading a well-balanced Rapids side

Yarbrough leverages his baritone voice to communicate up the field and uses windmill arm motions to give directions. “I have been privileged to be in soccer for a while now, and thankfully when I got started I had very experienced center backs and outbacks. I was fortunate enough to play Rafael Márquez, my center back for a few years. As a keeper, you get a vision of everything in front of you. And I learned a lot from those guys. I would always be in communication with them and was trying to learn.”

He elaborated, “Now that I am on this side, we have a good combination of experience and youth. I just make sure I am constantly communicating with my backline. That is my role. Sometimes they don’t see what I can see and that I am loud enough to help them out. Fortunately, with Keegan [Rosenberry] on my right, he has plenty of games in MLS experience, Lalas [Abubakar], too, and Danny Wilson. I think we have a good balance of youth and experience where we can all help out. I just have to make sure that when I am yelling at them, they are seeing what I am seeing.”

Yarbrough shows a different side in the locker room — it’s where his mother’s “tender side” surfaces.

“When I am in the locker room, I just try to establish a relationship with every player on the team,” he explained. “I check in on everyone, especially the guys who are from different countries. I know how hard it can be living in a different country. I saw it plenty of times when I was in Mexico... I want the guys to know that I have their backs and if they need anything that they can count on me.”

He added, “I love having my teammates over for lunch and dinner. Those types of chemistries that you build are reflected on the field. And I work with a great group of guys and that makes things that much easier.”

Chris Sharpe highlighted that Yarbrough was a priority signing during the off-season because the Rapids are trying to build a roster of young and talented up-and-comers, but there also needs to be experienced players in the mix.

“From our standpoint, Will brings a wonderful load of experience to us. He comes to us from Liga MX and has a handful of games with the US National Team.” Sharpe said that Yarbrough is both a wonderful leader in the dressing room and on the field, and that is very appealing to him and head coach Robin Fraser.

As for his on-field attributes, “I think he is different, that is why we like him. He is a good shot-stopper, good leader, and I think with his feet —I liken him to someone like a Rimando — very, very comfortable with the ball at his feet. He distributes the ball nicely, and that fits in very well with our style of play,” Sharpe said.

Just because he played more often last season, Yarbrough makes no assumptions that he is owns the starting spot. “My mindset is every day I try to do the best I can,” he said. “Every day I try to make it as difficult as possible for a field player to score on me and do my best, day-in and day-out. This is not a long career.”