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.