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2022 Season Review: Darren Yapi

Yapi had a productive year with Rapids 2 and got his feet wet in MLS for the first time in 2022.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Colorado Rapids
Aug 6, 2022; Commerce City, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rapids forward Darren Yapi (77) warms up before the match against Minnesota United FC at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

This is part of a series of individual player reviews by Joseph Samelson. You can follow him on Twitter @jspsam and read his work elsewhere at josephsamelson.com.

Role: Striker

Squad Status: Loaned Out

Season in a Sentence: Yapi had a productive year with Rapids 2 and got his feet wet in MLS for the first time in 2022.

Grade: Incomplete

Darren Yapi has often been highlighted by scouts as one of the Colorado Rapids’ premier young talents, and the 18-year-old Denver native began to show his promise at the professional level in 2022.

The towering forward initially got his feet wet during a loan stint with the Switchbacks after signing with the Rapids in 2021, but the addition of MLS Next Pro afforded him the chance for regular minutes on last season. He started 15 of Rapids 2’s 24 matches in 2022 and played a total of 1,251 minutes in the reserve league—an enormous sum when compared to the combined 197 minutes he saw in the USL Championship before he turned 17.

That level of game time was significant for Yapi, as most of his highlights prior to last season came with Colorado’s academy teams. Still, the 18-year-old largely met expectations when he assumed the starting striker role for the 2s. Aside from Dantouma Toure, Yapi was R2’s biggest scoring threat on a game-to-game basis and finished the season with six goals—a rate of 0.43 per 90. The youngster achieved the feat despite often being left on an island when the young team struggled to get the ball out of their own half. Yapi generally looked great on the ball, and recorded more successful dribbles than any other first team loanee during the season.

Yapi showed a willingness to press, but he did have trouble getting the most out of his 6’1” frame to win headers on set pieces or high crosses. The homegrown only won 33.3% of his aerial duel attempts and failed to score a single headed goal all season. That’s not inherently a problem, but Yapi didn’t offer much in the way of chance creation. Despite often pushing forward to cut off passing lanes, he only made two interceptions all season, and his 69.2% passing rate indicates he wasn’t exceptional when he tried to connect with teammates in the final third.

That aside, Yapi still showed tremendous potential. According to American Soccer Analysis, Yapi was R2’s most important player at +0.48 Goals Added. He still does a lot of the little things right in the final third, like occupying defenders, creating space for wingers to cut inside, and taking high percentage shots on his first touch. Yapi was able to parlay his solid outings with R2 into 173 minutes with the first team in MLS, and played two-thirds of Colorado’s season finale against Austin FC during his first big league start.

Looking Forward

Yapi was rewarded for his strong season with a call-up to the USMNT U-19 training camp in January. He had previously earned a selection to the U-17 youth squad in 2020, and it looks like the Nats are keeping a close eye on his progress. That’s a great sign for the future, but it’s still not clear if the homegrown is ready to take the next step into regular MLS minutes for 2023.

Following the departure of Gyasi Zardes, Colorado added Calvin Harris and Kévin Cabral to their forward corps during the Primary Transfer Window. That could keep Yapi’s minutes limited to the reserves for another year, but the lack of an experienced No. 9 in Colorado’s current squad might allow Yapi to work his way into the first team.

Either way, Yapi should have more than enough time to realize his highly-touted potential. He’s under contract through the 2025 season with a club option for 2026, and he should have plenty of chances to play his way into the first team if he continues to show improvement. Colorado’s decision to hand him a five-year deal in the first place speaks volumes of their belief in his future, and he might not be long for MLS if he can reach his ceiling.

Stats via MLSNext Pro, except where noted.