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Rapids coach Gary Smith

July 14, 2009 | 4:34 pm 2
By George Tanner

Rapids coach Gary Smith discusses his team’s 1-0 victory over FC Dallas on Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, the effects of losing players to national-team duties and Wednesday night’s international friendly against Club America.

How important was Saturday’s victory?

On some occasions we’ve come away from less than full points. We’re getting to the point in the season, in the second half, where points are the most important thing. I think on the back of two defeats there is some doubt, whatever you think, about what you’re doing. You lose a little bit of confidence. And to get back on track again is vital.

The defense was strong against Dallas. …

Listen, all the credit goes to the players. There’s no two ways about that. We were very disappointed last week with how we performed in the first period (in Colorado’s 2-1 loss to Chicago at home on July 4). And we lost the game against a good opponent because of a lack of drive and passion. On many an occasion here, we’ve showed at home that we’re difficult to beat. And last week we came in and we were all very, very disappointed at conceding two goals in 45 minutes. And the majority of (last) week, the majority of players were driven by that inept display in the first half. I thought in the first period (against Dallas) they turned the scales upside down. The amount of possession we won in their half … We forced them into errors. We kept a very high line. There was commitment. I thought the players really set this thought out: ‘Whatever else happens tonight, it’s not going to be easy.’ And it wasn’t easy. I think the stats show that Dallas didn’t have one shot on goal, albeit they had two or three opportunities to make a little bit more of the situation than they did. But so did we. We squandered a number of situations with a poor final pass or choice, bad touch, misplaced shot. … It was one of those situations where we had to find a goal, somehow, some way, to keep some pressure on the sides above us, who have started to pull away a little bit.

What about your decision to start Terry Cooke and Jacob Peterson? That was different from last week.

I felt we finished the game well last week. We finished strongly. It gives the group a little bit more clarity about their jobs when we play a 4-3-3. I was hoping for a little bit more service from the wide areas than we probably got in the first half. But what we did get was good pressure. The three midfield players (Nick LaBrocca, Mehdi Ballouchy and Pablo Mastroeni), I always felt, would be stronger and more aggressive than (Dallas’) three, although we were all mindful of their quality and creativity. And I think that energy, drive and aggression overpowered a very creative midfield for them. A big pat in the back to those three in midfield. There’s a lot of unsung work going on in there, Nicky and Mehdi. And I thought Pablo, for a majority of the game, showed a real edge, a real passion to lead the team on. He’s a terrific captain, and he set an example.”

What else went on to turn around the level of possession so much?

What has happened over a little period of time is, with a lot of home games coming up, is you tend to change your focus slightly from what might be a more secure and difficult group to beat to the creativity and possession and movement. And I think some of the players just lost sight of what has gotten them in the position they’re in. Their energy and determination has got them where they are. We are not the most creative and talented team in the league; there is no two ways about that. I will never, ever say that we are. But … what I do think we are is one of the more disciplined and hard-working groups within this league. And we may fall short in front of goal on the odd occasion through lack of creativity, but we should never fall short through lack of effort. And we did (against Chicago). And it’s one of very, very occasion I could ever level that criticism against the group. Second half last week we turned it around. But the main focus (against Dallas) was that the main qualities that we all feel we’re capable of come to the fore. And (laughing) the thing that let us down was our creativity when we won the ball back. We’re a side that are lacking a couple of players (midfielder Colin Clark and striker Omar Cummings were at the Gold Cup, representing the United States and Jamaica, respectively) that make a big difference to us. There are teams within this league that can cope with players missing. At the moment, we can’t. In the future, I hope we can. We’re working toward that. And what I do know that the players we bring in will not only make us stronger but will give us a little more of an edge and certainly more depth. And the players at the moment who are on the pitch, the 11 that start and the subs that come in, we should almost be able to rubber-stamp that they are going to give us every single vein of energy that they have in their body. We’re two players short, two creative players, two very explosive players. That may be, at the moment, what we’re missing, that little bit of an edge. We have to, along with a lot of other groups, grind out some results when it would be easy to sulk and, maybe, curl up in a corner and say we haven’t got the players we need.

Was Saturday’s victory more vital considering that you have to travel to D.C. this week?

We were on a two-game loss, so we have to snap that somehow. The players are not fools. They know what has gone on in the past. It’s indicative of the group that they’ve gone through a long period of ineptitude. To get a win when probably a draw was very likely is huge. It’s massive at this stage of the season.

Did you feel that Conor Casey was still getting acclimated after playing for the U.S. in the Confederations Cup?

The point is this: He’s playing up there on his own. When he’s got Omar with him, who’s stretching defenses and opening people up, he can flourish a little bit more. He’s playing against two players. Those players read the game and know they can commit themselves. I thought he was terrific. He held up better. There was a yard sharper within his game, his quality on the ball. He got into aggressive areas. And hopefully as time moves on, we can get that shape back again. … That 4-3-3 offered us the best opportunity to get a result. It’s not necessarily how I want to play, but the reality is that we need to stay in that playoff hunt and we need to get back on a winning trail. And, like you said, going away (to D.C.), it was vital that we got something out of the game.

For the Rapids franchise, having players on national teams is a proud achievement. But what’s it like for you as a coach?

It’s very difficult. It’s something that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world, I believe, not in major competition leagues, as the MLS is and is striving toward. In Europe, it happens in the summer (off-season) because of the way the season runs. And I know other clubs have to deal with it as well. But it does two things. It takes away your best players, so you lose some continuity. The second thing it does is it actually takes away your best players for the fans. So now those people who are coming to watch certain individuals, Conor Casey, Omar Cummings and Colin Clark, are out of luck. They are our most productive players. They’re not playing. Kenny Cooper’s not playing. He’s scored a truckload of goals for Dallas, but he’s not here. So why are the fans going to turn up. The likelihood is that the game’s going to be 1-nil or nil-nil because of the players who are missing. I know it’s difficult. It’s something I have to deal with. It’s new to me. The more-experienced managers in the league have seen this time and time again. Their squads have had more time to build and to deal with it. At the moment, we’re struggling to cope with that because I want the right players in for the long term. We could’ve brought in players that we turn over inside six months, but I’m not sure that gives us stability or structure. It is difficult. But for them, for the country, for the franchise, it’s great. There’s some mixed emotions, that’s for sure.

What kind of team are we going to see Wednesday night against Club America?

We’ve got some players within the group who need games. We’ll have a bit of a mixed group out there. We’ve got certain areas where we’re obviously stronger than others, namely along the back four. So don’t be some surprised if you see a lot of changes within that back four. Julien Baudet, who’s our latest signing, is available to play. So, all things being equal, we’ll see him for the first time. Then we start to move into an area where we don’t have a lot of room to maneuver. So we’ll assess the bodies. … What I do think is that we’ll still be very competitive. We’ll see some faces that are going to get some minutes.

Do you scout Club America?

I don’t know anything about them. I don’t know how they’re going to play. I don’t know what the players are like. … (laughing) I only found out the other day they’re from Mexico. … It’s a very good opportunity for some of our squad players to show what they’re about, to play against good opposition. Of course we want to be competitive, and we want to show what we’re about. But our focus surely has to be league football and getting the best we can out of that with a very small group. The squads have been reduced. And we need to make sure that all of those squad players, who’ve had limited opportunities with no reserve league, get some football against a very competitive group.

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  • wahleyed said:

    Excellent post George. Thanks!

  • tommyt said:

    this is the kind of coverage i crave as an mls fan. thx and keep up the good work.

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