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After firing coach, Colorado Rapids GM Padraig Smith now under pressure

With a winless start to the season through nine matches, Colorado Rapids executive vice president and GM Padraig Smith believes drastic measures will get the club back on track.

Padraig Smith, left, general manager and sporting director of the Colorado Rapids, shakes hands with the MLS soccer team's new coach, Anthony Hudson, after a news conference Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, in Commerce City, Colo. Hudson has been managing the New Zealand national squad for the past three years. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – With a winless start to the season through nine matches, Rapids executive vice president and GM Padraig Smith decided take drastic measures.

With hope of turning the ship in the right direction, he relieved second-year head coach Anthony Hudson of his duties on Wednesday, just 17 months after hiring the former New Zealand manager.

“I think we should have more points on the board now and we’re certainly capable of winning games,” Smith told reporters on Wednesday. “We want to make sure that when we see a slide like this, when we see results going the way they are, you’ve got to take action.”

Hudson went just 8-26-9 in league play during his tenure in Colorado and also went winless in knockout competitions, with the Rapids bowing out early in the Concacaf Champions League and U.S. Open Cup play last season.

But Smith also shoulders some of the blame, having hired Hudson after a “worldwide coaching search” that lasted about four months. Hudson came into the job with little experience successfully managing club football, with the vast majority of his experience coming from managing the New Zealand men’s national team and Bahrain U-23 sides.

With reporters gathered around and cameras rolling, Smith took responsibility for the failed hire.

“I take a massive responsibility in that,” Smith said. “When I look at the overall plan, we’re constantly evaluating it and looking at where we can make changes and what we can improve on.”

During the media session, Smith explained that as a “process-driven individual” he’s willing to look at the mistakes made in the Rapids’ last coaching search and apply the lessons learned as the team undergoes a second head coaching search under his direction.

“There’s no timeline,” Smith said of the search for a new head coach. “We want to do this right and I have complete confidence in the coaching staff.”

He also remains steadfast the search will go well this time around.

“We undertook a very detailed process last time, so that’s laid a foundation,” Smith said. “We’ll take our time. We’ll do it right. We’ll bring the right guy in.”

Smith’s mistakes haven’t been limited to the failed hire of Hudson, however. Under his watch, Hudson was approved to bring in players who haven’t shown an ability to perform in MLS for a variety of reasons.

Additionally, the Irishman with a UEFA financial background has been lauded for his analytical approach and expected ability to build a roster smartly, but Colorado’s highest paid players have oft been the biggest under-performers.

But this past offseason, the Rapids had appeared to right the ship at least in terms of roster approach, bringing in several proven MLS veterans. Hudson’s inability to get results with an improved roster turned up the heat, and his now infamous postgame comments following a 1-0 loss to Atlanta, during which he called his side a “bottom group of players” facing a “massive gap in class,” sealed his fate.

Smith fired back a bit, defending the players while outlining Colorado’s plan for the future.

“I think fundamentally I’m actually very proud of the players we’ve got in that locker room,” Smith said. “What we’re driving for here is we’ve always talked about 2020. We’ve talked about the DP transition [getting Howard and Gashi off the books] and I think this year was meant to be a competitive year, it truly was. The plan was to be playoff competitive in 2019, transition the DPs in 2020 and be the best form of ourselves going into 2021. The results haven’t been there for us and that’s been unacceptable.”

That doesn’t mean there isn’t more room to improve the roster. Smith confirmed prior comments the Rapids are shopping before the MLS primary transfer window closes on May 7.

“We’re involved in discussions with a number of clubs now,” he said. “The window shuts on Tuesday, so, as always, we’re exploring every avenue that’s open to us to try and improve the roster.”

With Colorado’s failed coaching hire now gone, a spotlight has now shined on those who remain with the club to get things right.

“I think fundamentally we need to examine every aspect of what we do here,” Smith said. “I brought in coach Hudson and I take full responsibility for that. I look at the players we’ve brought in and if we’ve made a mistake there, I have to look at why and what we can learn from that. At the end of the day, not every player you’re going to bring in is going to work. That’s one of the fundamentals of sport, it’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it goes.”

But it’s not simply c’est la vie if things go wrong. Smith knows his team will be graded on wins and losses.

“Results are going to drive everything,” he said. “We want to be a perennial playoff team. We feel like we’ve got a bunch of players in that locker room to be playoff competitive this year, we genuinely do.”

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