Backpass: 2022 Player Reviews, Goalkeeper
Looking back at William Yarbrough in 2022, we try and understand whether an upgrade at GK for 2023 is really necessary.
Colorado heads into 2023 with uncertainty at the goalkeeper position. The club has had William Yarbrough as the starting goalkeeper since 2020, when he was brought over from Liga MX side Club León to replace the retiring Tim Howard. Howard was mostly bad in 2019, so anything would have been an upgrade - and Yarbrough was that and moreso. He had good campaigns in 2020 and 2021 as the Rapids made playoff appearances both years.
In 2022, as we all know, it was a different story. Colorado missed the playoffs. The defense conceded a boatload of goals. And thus, questions need to be asked about the goalkeeping.
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Currently, the team is linked with Serbian keeper Marko Ilić.
This leads to two questions, which a look back at Yarbrough’s 2022 season can answer.
Are the Rapids looking for Yarbrough’s replacement at starter, or his backup and heir-apparent?
If it’s the former, was Yarbrough really that bad in 2022?
And that’s the value of doing one … last … position review of 2022. Even though I am totally exhausted of this exercise. No sane person should ever have to go through highlight footage of Rapids goals conceded, looking for a GK’s worst howler. It is just cruel. But that’s the kind of sacrifice I make for you people.
34 games, 3014 minutes played, 54 Goals Allowed, 99 Saves, +9.43 xG-GA
Save of the Year:
September 4, 2022 vs DC United. Yarbs stones Christian Benteke on a penalty, on what would have been both the game winner (the two teams played to a 0-0 draw) and Benteke’s first MLS goal. Yarbrough’s technique, his reaction, his read of which way Benteke’s body language to guess which way he was going to go, and his reach are all quite impressive here.
What a Howler:
April 16, 2022 vs Minnesota United. Minnesota get a 1-0 lead on this goal from Bakaye Dibassy; Yarbrough gets both hands on it, but somehow doesn’t push it away from goal. It’s a gaff. Not as bad as his epic error from 2021, but bad.
Looking back on Yarbrough’s 2022 season and reviewing his key saves and goals conceded, it’s hard to say with the naked eye that he was bad. Sure, there are a few goals here and there where a quicker reaction or different positioning might have saved a goal. But overall, there wasn’t a game I could point to where I could say ‘Yarbrough cost the team the game.’ Even in the above ‘What a howler’ conceded goal to Minnesota, Colorado would level it at 1-1, before two late defensive collapses would end the match at 3-1. Take back Yeah Barbara’s1 howler, and the centennial state oarsmen still lose this match, 2-1. This type of game was really common in 2022. Yarbrough concedes a bunch of goals; most are probably the defense's fault; the Rapids lose again. Why blame the goalkeeper? We might conclude, then, that William Yarbrough was mostly not responsible for the 51 goals the team conceded while he was between the pipes.
The key question we would need to answer, then, is: was the Rapids defense was terrible, making Yarbrough look terrible by association? Or, was Yarbrough terrible in 2022, while the defense was unfairly blamed? Or, possibly, it could be a mix of both.
Usually I lean pretty heavily on math to answer these questions. The key number I look at is the stat “G-xG”, or “Goals Allowed minus Expected Goals Allowed.” xG tells us, based on shot position, how often a shot is supposed to go in. You then subtract that number from the actual goals conceded, and violá – you can tell if a GK conceded fewer than expected, as expected, or more than expected. Negative number: good! Positive number: bad! Small number: your keeper is league average.
The best GK in the league in 2022 was New Englands Dorde Petrovic, who at -10.75 G-xG saved his team roughly 11 goals over an average keeper. The worst in the league was San Jose’s JT Marcinkowski, who had a +10.33 G-xG. The second worst in MLS was William Yarbrough, at +9.43.
Of course, San Jose’s defense was bad, and the Rapids defense was bad, so blaming the goalkeeper based on this one number is perhaps irresponsible. Yarbrough’s Save to Goals Allowed ratio of 99 to 51 (1.94) is pretty decent, especially when compared to some other struggling 2022 GKs like Tim Melia (45 to 34, 1.32), Pedro Gallese (79 to 47, 1.68), or Jonathan Bond (90 to 51, 1.76). However, the top 10 goalkeepers in MLS are all well north of a 2.0 S/GA ratio, and the aforementioned Petrovic’s 84 Saves against 26 Goals Allowed is an outrageous 3.23. At some point, you have to say that Yarbrough was not that great. Or at least that many other goalkeepers were better.
One related data point in trying to figure out if the problem child was Yarbs or the back line is this: in the team’s worst performance of the year, the 6-0 drubbing by Philadelphia Union, Yarbrough actually had a pretty good game. The keeper recorded 8 saves, many of which were difficult stops. To think Colorado really could have lost that game 10-0 is pretty eye opening, and tells you a little bit about what Yarbs had to deal with all year.
Most goalkeepers that have a bad year are at the beginning or in the midst of a decline. David Bingham followed up a strong 2019 season with LA Galaxy (-1.65 G-xG) with a terrible one in 2022 (+5.74). He was released, spent a year unattached, and is now the third-string keeper in Portland. Nick Rimando’s G-xG in 2019 was bad, and he retired at season’s end. Luis Robles was MLS GK of the year in 2015, and Red Bulls captain in 2018. In 2019 and 2020 he was pretty bad. He then retired.
And then there’s Andre Blake. Blake is a three-time MLS all-star and the 2020 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. But in 2019, he had the worst G-xG in MLS, +10.38. That was 3.19 higher than the next-worst keeper that year, Evan Bush. And then, he rebounded like nothing ever happened. In 2020, 2021, and 2022, Blake was in the top five for GKs on G-xG. Sometimes, a guy just has a bad year.2
Take a look at three years of Yarbrough’s G-xG with the Rapids.
2020 G-xG: +0.10
2021 G-xG: -0.53
2022 G-xG: +9.43
This past season was uncharacteristic for Yarbrough. Maybe he uses that frustration to fuel his comeback. Or: maybe he needs some young buck pushing him in training for the starting spot for him to raise his game.
Pádraig Smith’s offseason hustle for a keeper implies to me that the team thinks they can do better, or at least that they need to plan for life after Yarbrough, either next season or sometime this season. I tend to agree. Yarbrough turns 34 years old this season, and that’s in the realm of where goalkeepers are at the beginning of their decline. Assistant coach Chris Sharpe has long had a good eye for players, and so if he thinks it’s time to shake things up, I trust him.
It feels like Yarbrough could rebound this year and help this team into the playoffs. But better safe than sorry: the time for Colorado to bring in either a new starter for 2023 or a competent understudy that can take over in 2024 is probably right now.
1 Game Played, 51 minutes, 2 Saves, 3 Goals Allowed
Abe Rod came in mid-game on June 25 to replace William Yarbrough after the starting keeper came out to challenge an attacker for a ball, committed a foul inside the 18 yard box, and got conked on the head in the process. Abe came into the game to immediately face a penalty kick, which he conceded. The rest of the game didn’t go his way, as Colorado lost 3-0. But to be honest, none of that was the kids fault.
His development since then has been maybe a little underwhelming. He played 495 minutes for Colorado Springs in 2020, conceding 7 goals, making 14 saves, and recording a -0.34 G-xG. The next year, he had 589 minutes for Colorado Springs in 2021, conceding 11 goals and making 22 saves and turning in a pretty good -0.53 G-xG rate, although that stat isn’t super reliable with a small sample size.
But he didn’t start in either year. Colorado Springs’ head coach chose to make Rodriguez the backup to Sean Melvin, who most thought wasn’t that great. Melvin now plays for a team called Atlético Ottawa. No, really.
This year, Abe Rod had 1530 in MLS Next Pro with Rapids 2 (The Cobras!) where he, uh, conceded a pretty terrible 2.59 goals per game, with 44 goals allowed against 53 saves. Rapids 2 were really bad, so we can’t fully put the blame on Rodriguez. However, the strong offseason efforts of the Rapids to sign a backup strongly implies that the club doesn’t think Rodriguez is ready to be an MLS backup, let alone a starter. And I’m not sure that they think he will ever be. The Rapids may be ready to move on from Rodriguez.
There’s always another young and hungry player or two coming up behind. The Rapids have two more goalkeepers currently in the pipeline: 16 year-old Adam Beaudry, who was recently called up to the USYNT U17 team, and 18 year-old Isaac Nehme, who started 21 of 22 matches as a Freshman this year for Denver University, recording 10 shutouts, while also backing up Abe Rod on Rapids 2.
Rodriguez may have just been biding his time and honing his craft. Maybe this is his breakout year. Whether he comes good in 2023 or not, there’s a good chance that this season is likely his last with the Rapids.4 So he’ll want to rise to the occasion, if only to attract the attention of his next club.
Clint’s a good bloke. He didn’t play a single minute for the senior team this season though. The one time a Rapids backup got into a match, it was Abe Rod. Clint, unfortunately, was hurt at the time, and had been left at home for the trip to Portland.
At season’s end his contract was allowed to expire and Minnesota picked him up on a two-year deal. Fare thee well, Clint.
Yarbrough was closed-captioned as ‘Yeah Barbara’ in a home match last year and I just irrationally love that to pieces.
In 2018, I was mostly unemployed, my family and I were totally broke, and other than writing about or watching soccer, I was mostly miserable. It was a bad year. We moved to Pittsburgh. Now we’ve got food on the table and my wife and I have jobs and generally things are hunky dory. Sometimes you have a bad year.
Our first Rapids homegrown GK probably should have been Ethan Horvath, of Highlands Ranch. Horvath, who has 8 USMNT caps, went from Real Colorado to Molde of the Norwegian first division at age 18. Normally the Rapids catch a talented guy with Colorado Rush or Real Colorado and bring him onto the Rapids Academy team. But for whatever reason - either a scouting miss or a player’s desire to go abroad without playing in the domestic league, Horvath bypassed Commerce City. Oh, what could have been.
The original contract signing press release didn’t indicate the length of the contract, but generally homegrowns are signed for four years with a club option for a fifth, unless they are very young or very promising.