These were the main subjects of discussion when I talked today to Gary Smith, Colorado Rapids' head coach. We talked about the search for an assistant coach and a full-time goalkeeping coach, the impact of the MLS decision to scrap the Reserve division and some of the anticipated player movements before next season. Here is a summary of our talk.
COACHING STAFF AND GOALKEEPING:
There was a bit of fuss and bother (and a major lack of communication) recently when the Rochester Rhinos announced their player coach, Steve Guppy, a close friend of Smith's, would be leaving to join the Rapids as assistant coach. Smith said today that the search was ongoing and that "it was not nailed on that Steve will be coming." "There are a couple of bodies that I want to interview," he added. One of those bodies will not be John Murphy, former assistant coach during the Fernando Clavijo era and currently Director of Player Development. "I have a great relationship with John," Smith said. "John needs to be in charge somewhere else because a move to assistant would be a backward step for him." "Rightly, he has aspirations to do bigger and better things."
On the goalkeeping coach side, Smith said there are still interviews to be conducted. David Kramer, currently acting as a part-time coach, is in "pole position." "He has good experience and the fact that he has already formed a relationship with the goalkeepers here," counts in his favor, Smith said. One interesting angle on this is what will happen to Preston Burpo next season. With the Rapids having to reduce their squad to 24 players because of the Reserve Division scrapping, Smith agrees that there won't be room for four goalkeepers at the club. With Mike Graczyk already signed up for next season and Chris Sharpe signed to a new MLS league contract, it doesn't leave room to have all of Burpo, Bouna Coundoul and Justin Hughes. "If we have three goalkeepers, we will be holding one more than other MLS teams," Smith said. With his emphasis on youth, it seems likely that Preston Burpo would be the one to miss out and Smith said he could foresee a player coach role at some point for the veteran goalie. "I know that Preston will be pushing for a team spot," he said. "He would be a good individual to have around as a player coach or goalkeeping coach." As for Bouna, who is clearly stalling on signing a new contract, Smith said they were close to coming to a resolution with the Senegal international and his agent. "He has been offered an extremely good contract," Smith added. "Bouna is a very talented young lad and he knows he is in front but we all know that people have dips in form and we need to have individuals who not only fill in the gaps but are also fighting for a first team place."
SCRAPPING THE RESERVES:
"This is probably the first poor decision and step backward that the MLS has made," Smith said. The squad will have to be trimmed down to 24 players which will mean some "very difficult decisions." Preseason will be key in making such decisions, Smith said. "The younger players will have an opportunity to push on and come into the first team but they will be fighting for fewer spots," he said. "It will be impossible to keep all the bodies and some of these boys will be moving to USL." If it hadn't been for the Reserves, players like Nick LaBrocca, Kosuke Kimura and Colin Clark would have found it far more difficult to get first team chances, Smith pointed out. The Rapids will be looking into organizing as many competitive fixtures for second tier players next season but it won't be easy to do so, Smith said.
Smith has made no secret of the fact that he would like to add two or three players to the current squad in an attempt to make the Rapids a genuine contender for the MLS Cup. One of the positions he is focusing on is another versatile defender, primarily a full-back. The talented but inexperienced Jordan Harvey and Kosuke Kimura look to be the starters right now but there will be no place next season for Jose Burciaga. The veteran left back, who joined from Kansas City at the beginning of last season, started off with a bang, scoring against his old team early on, but injuries set in and it looked as if all his confidence, not to say pace, had gone in later games. "Jose will be moving on to a new home so sadly it won't be here," Smith revealed. The back four of choice looks settled for now with Cory Gibbs and Ugo Ihemelu as center backs but Facundo Erpen, who also looked on his way out at the end of last season, may be revitalized since the departure of Mike Petke and could be challenging for a spot.
Upfront, Smith emphasised his desire to add a striker even with a reduced roster. "Four will be a competitive number," he said. "Omar (Cummings) will be called up, people will pick up injuries and suspensions and we have to have at least one striker on the bench."
Smith said he is spending his days watching a lot of DVDs of players and is keeping an open mind as to where they will eventually come from. The problem with the MLS, Smith said, is that, if you want a player, you also have to be ready to trade a player that you would ideally want in your first team. That is why he is using the relationship with Arsenal to tap into their scouting network. So far, he has seen players as far afield as Holland, South America and Italy that he likes the look of. Ideally, it would be nice to have players in place before preseason. "I don't want a poor personality in the locker room," Smith said. "It is more important for me to get the right person in than the wrong person at the ideal time."
Apart from watching DVDs, Smith will be returning to England at New Year and will be able to take in some real live soccer. The holiday period is a very busy one in English football with games traditionally played on Boxing Day, New Year's Day and any Saturdays around that time. Smith will then return to the US for the MLS Draft and Combine which take place in early January.