Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Smith Reaching For Stars With Feet on the Ground

Well, it was Wednesday rather than Monday but I did eventually manage to talk with Gary Smith, the head coach of the Colorado Rapids. Here are some of his thoughts less than a month away from the start of the season.

Gary Smith, head coach of the Colorado Rapids, wants 40 points to make the playoffs. That is the first priority of the team. If the Rapids do make the postseason, then aims can be modified and priorities reset. For some, aiming for just 40 points may seem a little light on ambition but Smith is realistic enough to know that he is still working with a relatively inexperienced core of players and that it is vital for the team to make that stage first having missed out in the past two seasons. "I am excited but realistic and we have to make sure both inside and outside the club that we don’t get too carried away," Smith said. For Smith, there is now a core group of players recently signed to multi-year contracts that are the future of the club. Aside from veteran club captain, Pablo Mastroeni, Smith sees the likes of Nick LaBrocca, Colin Clark, Ugo Ihemelu, Omar Cummings, Jordan Harvey and Kosuke Kimura, as the mainstay of the club in the coming years. But many of those players still have not typically played much more than a dozen games a season and are still developing their talents. Clearly, Smith is not just thinking about this season but the next few too.
The opening six games of the season will have a big say on the probability of reaching that target of 40 points. The Rapids will play four of those six games away, two of those being at Houston and Columbus. "Any away game is tough in this league and to have games against the current champions and the champions of the previous two seasons makes it even tougher," Smith said. His aim is for the team to get something out of both of those games. "If we can come out of the pack from these opening games, we are going to be in a good spot," he added. There then follows a long stint with a majority of games at DSG Park before more road games towards the end of the season.
The team is now just one or two players away from finalizing the 24-man roster which has to be in place March 2. Smith has been very public about bringing in one or two extra forwards to back up Conor Casey and Cummings. One of those could be a big name forward from Europe, probably in the summer once the seasons finish there. It may also be possible to bring in a player of good caliber from either South America or Africa in time for the season opener. Smith said he had been working on this for the past six weeks and admitted to some frustrations with the players he is targeting. One of those is the much-discussed English striker currently with Southampton, Jason Euell, whom Smith is talking with on a regular basis. There are problems with financial discussions, he said. Clearly, this is a problem with European players used to much higher salaries. The Rapids do have their Designated Player spot available again after trading Christian Gomez but I wouldn't hold your breath they will be able to fill that slot with a big name player based on what Smith is saying.
If strikers are added, clearly one or two more players would have to go. Only one triallist remains at the club, Ivorian Serge Wawa. Expect one of the developmental players to be moving on in the next week or so as the March 2 deadline approaches. The team heads to California to play San Jose on Friday followed by more preseason training and a game next week in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

DU Star Makes U-20 National Team

Sam Garza is a name you should keep an eye on. The University of Denver forward has just been named to the US U-20 national squad for the upcoming CONCACAF U-20 championship taking place in Trinidad and Tobago March 6-15. The US should qualify from this for the U-20 World Cup which takes place in Egypt September 24-October 16. Well-placed sources rate Garza as probably the best young striker in the US today. The DU team will certainly miss him if he goes to Egypt in the Fall, the university's main season. You should also keep an eye on the fortunes of Kyle Christiansen who played upfront with Garza for DU last season before graduating. Christiansen was drafted by Chivas last month and is apparently still training with the LA-based team awaiting a decision on whether he will actually be signed. The Colorado Rapids open the MLS season away at Chivas March 21.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Gary Smith Will be in the House

It's just taking some time to secure a moment to speak to the man. Hopefully, I'll be talking to the head coach of the Colorado Rapids this weekend so do expect to see a post on that by Monday at the latest. Maybe I mentioned it before but I will be doing some work with the Rapids this year by writing some articles for the gameday programs. That's why I am talking to Mr. Smith but I'll also put some material on the blog as well. We'll be talking about preseason, who he may be planning to bring in, what's going on with those crazy-named triallists (Wawa, Nicodemus Orok etc.) and what his expectations are for this season, particularly those crucial opening six games which see four tough away fixtures. Wanted to let you know it looks as if I will also be doing some regular work with this season. I covered the US v Guatemala game last year for them and it has led to some more work. Thanks again for all your encouragement and support.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Getting Into The 21st Century

I'm trying to make this blog a little more user-friendly and technologically advanced which, to someone as tech-unsavvy as me, is a tall order. I've noticed that a couple of regular readers have designated themselves as Followers. I know I have many more faithful readers than that. I'd be very happy, therefore, if you could all sign up as followers. That would help me a lot. I'm also looking into how to alert readers that the blog has been updated. I know a bit about RSS and such but I'm wondering how to update readers via an email or to a cellphone that I have just entered a post on the blog. I'm also looking into twitter which I know George over at FC Rocky is a big fan of.
This is all because I have received a lot of encouragement from readers out there who have urged me to keep going with the blog. I am very grateful for that. I want this to be a go-to site for Rapids' fans and others to watch throughout the season. I'll continue to post this year. I'm not going to try and compete with the Rapids' blog ( so I will assume you are all looking at that anyway. I'll just be doing my thing which is bringing you as much good reporting on the team as I can. Please do look out for an upcoming post next week with head coach, Gary Smith. I want to thank you all again for your support. It is hugely appreciated and I hope to get to meet you all this season.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Mastroeni on soccer, life and fish tanks

I sat down with a rejuvenated Pablo Mastroeni in the locker room at DSG Park the other day to talk about the upcoming season. You'll also find some of this material in one of the Rapids' game day programs this season. Pablo has a lot to say about life as well as soccer. Top player, top human being.

Pablo Mastroeni, club captain at the Colorado Rapids, is happy to be exhausted. Talking to him in between the twice daily preseason training sessions, he told me he is going home beat every night but that is the result of highly focused sessions that are improving fitness and making the guys ready for the season. "It's very tough but there seems to be a sense of purpose behind everything we do," he said. "As a player, you can have a million questions but these are limited right now to just a few and that is really positive." Much of that is down to new coach Gary Smith, an appointment that Mastroeni said had a lot to do with his decision not to go to Europe and instead commit himself to the franchise here in Colorado. “Once I knew that Gary was going to be the coach, I committed the rest of my career here,” he said. “I am challenged and tested every day by Gary and the staff and by my peers to become a better player at the young age of 32.”
Mastroeni welcomes the faith Smith has placed in him as a leader and mentor to some of the younger players, players that are keeping him on his toes with the intensity of practice ahead of the gruelling ten month season. “You cannot be complacent in this business otherwise you will get overtaken,” Pablo said. “My job is to lead by example, to work hard and help with the younger guys as well as do what you have to do to separate yourself from the rest and keep in tip-top shape.”
There is clearly huge hunger in Mastroeni. Always a combative player who gives one hundred percent in every session and every game (believe me, I have been to several training sessions), the US national team veteran is relishing the challenges ahead. I asked him if his perspective was also looking ahead to next year's World Cup in South Africa. After all, this would be his last chance to play in the ultimate soccer championship and it's not as if the US is overloaded with experienced defensive midfielders. Pablo is sanguine about it all. "I've had multiple discussions with Bob (Bradley) and he knows that, if he ever needs my services, I would be available," he said. The US team is in transition and Bradley is looking not only at this World Cup but the next one too, Pablo said. "It would be the icing on the cake but it's not the main course," Pablo said, if he is included in any squad that makes it to 2010. "For now, I am trying to make a statement for my club, that is my main priority." Would that statement include an MLS Championship? Mastroeni believes that the elements in the club are better placed for a good run in the playoffs than they have been for some time. It is a lot about self-belief and teamwork because there are so many MLS teams that could win the championship. He pointed to the example of last year’s winners, Columbus Crew, as proof that any team can win. “Look at them last year,” he said. “There was a really positive turnaround there, the city got behind them and they started to realize that there is something bigger than yourself. We also have people that believe that we can get the work done here. We keep building, we keep getting better and we just need to get a good start.”
For now, Pablo will continue to train like crazy to be in the best shape possible but listening closely to the demands on his body, go home exhausted to his family at night and enjoy stocking up his new saltwater aquarium, a 65 gallon monster. "It will be a while before I can put the fish in as it has to have the proper bacteria and everything but I've promised my son to put all the Nemo characters in there," he said. Let's hope for Colorado's sake that Pablo can remain fit and healthy because he is a much-needed leader both on and off the field.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Gomez Goes as Rapids Acquire Guerrero

Big news in the soccer world today. First, Chelsea sack Scolari as manager and then the Colorado Rapids not so surpisingly trade an unhappy Christian Gomez back to DC United. For Gomez, the Rapids will get experienced international player Ivan Guerrero (will this be the competition for Colin Clark?), a designated player roster spot and a second round superdraft pick for next year. They also partly solve the goalkeeping conundrum because they are trading back-up goalie Mike Graczyk as part of the deal. There were just too many goalkeepers on the roster. Looks like a pretty good deal to me. Let me know what you think.
Gomez never really settled in the team and was clearly not a player that Gary Smith wanted. He looked off the pace and just couldn't fit into a disciplined style. It was interesting to note Smith's changes of tone regarding Gomez's future as the preseason approached. When Gomez pulled a groin muscle very early on in preseason training, it was probably the last straw. I have little time to fill out more details right now on the trade so please do visit the Rapids' website for more information.
A quick heads-up also. I talked at length with Pablo Mastroeni today so expect something on that later this week.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Post on the Lack of Posts

I haven't been posting much recently as faithful readers will already know. The truth is that I have been giving a lot of thought recently to where I can go with this blog. It doesn't make me any money and it requires a lot of work to do the job that I want to do, namely report well on the team. I never meant this blog to be an opinion platform. There's too many opinions out there and I am humble enough to know that adding mine is not really worth all that much in the general scheme of things. I'm not saying the blog is over, it's just that I am working on some opportunities right now that will see me emerge in probably different form. Please do check back over the next weeks and I should have some more definitive information. In the meantime, do check out the Rapids' blog at because there are some good posts on what is going on in preseason as Gary Smith works on his final roster. There are going to be a lot of unhappy and unlucky players from the current squad who will be playing USL-1 soccer this year or who will be traded to other MLS clubs. The Rapids leave next week for a preseason trip to sunny Florida.