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The Darren Yapi Interview: Incremental Growth, His Tough Love Army and Staying Grounded Amid the Hype

Rapids Twitter is revving up the Yapi Hype Train. He’s now on the USMNT radar. He’s just focusing on scoring that first goal.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Seattle Sounders FC
Feb 26, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Colorado Rapids forward Darren Yapi (77) dribbles the ball in the first half against the Seattle Sounders FC at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Yapi walks into the facilities at DICK’s Sporting Goods Park. He meets Communications Manager Emilio Gonzalez. “Today’s the day. Interview Day.” Gonzalez responds by saying Yapi is big time now.

The 18-year-old laughs it off with a smile. Maybe it’s disbelief. Maybe it’s for show. Maybe he’s staying grounded.

Colorado Rapids fans have high hopes for the young striker after last season. USMNT Twitter is now aware of him. The club believe he can do big things in 2023. Meanwhile, Yapi has tunnel vision. No interview request or buzz are going to help him hold the ball up against the meat truck defenders of MLS.

Breaking Into the First Team and Proving Himself to Robin Fraser

Originally a U-12s prospect, Yapi was the youngest Homegrown in Rapids history (16 years, 104 days) when he signed a five-year first team deal two years ago today.

After a year on loan in Colorado Springs, he got on the radar of every Rapids fan last season. On a struggling Rapids 2 team, he managed six goals in 1251 minutes, often on an island offensively with limited service.

The Green Valley Ranch native played a role in the final three games of 2022, getting his first ever start on Decision Day at Austin FC.

“Austin was a good experience. It was hard. Those defenders are big. It’s different from MLS Next Pro or the academy. I’ve got to learn to use my body more,” Yapi told Burgundy Wave on Interview Day earlier this week.

It’s taken time for young players in Colorado to break into the first team under Head coach Robin Fraser. He wants to see commitment, consistency and coachability in training.

“Last season is where he really saw me taking those strides. That’s when he started talking to me more, push me. He wants to see more,” said Yapi.

“Learning in training then applying those things in games. I was trying to learn as much as possible. Little by little, it got better.”

The center forward has clearly proven he should be a part of the first team.

“His progress last year was remarkable. He went from being a young player with some promise to a legitimate competitor for a first team position,” Fraser said in preseason.

“He is a player who had decent physical size three years ago. He looks like a big strong man now. Some of the goals he’s scored now, he’s not playing like a little kid anymore.”

Decision Day at Austin vs. Last Sunday at Seattle

He had a good run to end last year, with some moments in a 68 minute outing at Austin. Teammates and coaches say he had a good preseason, bolstered by a callup to the U-19s. With star forward Diego Rubio out, he started the season opener at Seattle Sounders and almost scored his first MLS goal two minutes in.

Yapi swears he thought it was going in. “I started running already. I was going to lose my mind,” he answered when asked if he had a celebration planned.

His two starts, technically back-to-back, four and a half months apart, illustrate how much he’s grown. At Austin, he looked decent here or there, making a good pass, holding the ball up well, or dealing with physicality from a defender. Those moments came between long stretches of being a deer in the headlights.

Last Sunday, the time spent looking the part vs showing his youth inverted. He led the press. He created quality opportunities for himself and others. His positioning was good. That run to get 1-v-1 with Frei, excellent. There were times where he looked inexperienced and frustrated, as he should have in a 4-0 loss. But the tremendous growth over the last two years was evident.

“He got better as the game went along. He had a great moment his first touch of the game, that helped him along. A really good start for him,” Fraser said postgame.

Progression and Tenacity Amid Tough Love

Yapi’s grown into his 6’1” 174 lbs. frame. Beyond the physical attributes, his improved technical skills should have the club and community buzzing.

“My finishing has gotten so much better. It’s so much sharper. I’ve gotten stronger and bigger,” Yapi said, adding that he still thinks there’s gains to be had in the weight room.

He and multiple coaches believe his hold up play needs to improve. Going up against huge men in MLS has been eye opening for the teenager. Now that he’s gained weight, he needs to learn how to use it properly to compete. That will come with time.

The Rapids have settled on five first team center back in Andreas Maxsø, Lalas Abubakar, Danny Wilson, Moise Bombito and Aboubacar Keita. All of them are listed as taller and heavier than Yapi on their club profiles.

Furthermore, they have a variety of skillsets. In training, Yapi gets to work on every facet of his game playing against the five of them. This is helping him become a well-rounded No. 9. It also means he can’t take any drills lightly, especially with Wolde Harris, effectively Colorado’s striker coordinator, yelling from the sideline.

“He gives me that tough love. It’s a good thing. When I have those days, he’s on me.”

Harris isn’t the only one holding him to high standards. Chris Sharpe organizes the team’s set pieces and wants to see more from him in the air. Diego Rubio is mentoring as well. Through it all, Fraser has been impressed with his mentality:

“Part of that is he’s an observant, determined kid. The more information we give him, the more he’s taken in. He’s continuing with that confidence. His finishing is getting better and better.”

With Rubio out for potentially a month due to minor knee surgery, Yapi could start every game in March. Unable to play, Rubio’s become a part of Yapi’s sideline entourage of accountability.

“Diego’s more tough love as well. He’s kind of a crazy guy. He sees my potential,” Yapi said, with admiration in his voice.

“Once he got injured he told me I have to get ready. I came off a really good preseason. I know what I have to do. This is my opportunity.”

Captain Jack Price thinks he’s one big performance away from cementing himself, similar to Sam Vines in 2019 and Cole Bassett in 2020.

“He’s going to have a bigger part to play. I’d like to see that. This year’s a big year for Yapi. He just needs that first goal. If he comes in and does well, it’s his place to lose.”

Personal Expectations and Thoughts on the Yapi Hype Train

As much as Yapi and the people around him are process focused, he has a clear personal goal in mind for this season.

“I want to hit at least ten plus by the end of the season.”

If he were to be a regular starter and if the Rapids are much improved this year, he could hit double digits. If everyone’s right about his improved finishing, one could call it reasonable. He believes if he has a good start to this year he’ll be the U-20s at the World cup in Indonesia this summer.

Fraser makes sure the team ignores outside noise and stays focused. If it’s doubt or criticism, it can be useful and motivating to an extent. If it’s excessive praise, it can be a distraction.

When asked what he thinks of Yapi Hype Train, the forward said he didn’t know it existed. Cole Bassett interjected that his teammate doesn’t pay attention to that stuff.

Yapi has no Twitter account confirmed by the club, though he could have an incognito burner. He is verified on Instagram. That account is just over a year old. He’s posted five times, the most recent being from preseason in Mexico. Unless he’s scrolling through memes on TikTok, Yapi appears to be relatively off the grid.

Maybe he was being genuine when he thought one interview request was a big deal. Maybe he’ll start believing his hype when more of them come in. I doubt it. But if it happens, Fraser et al. will give him some tough love to stay focused.

No amount of hype is going to help him hold the ball up or score those ten goals.