COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Every transfer window gives teams an opportunity to evaluate weaknesses and make tweaks, sometimes even big changes, in an effort to craft an ideal roster that will lead to success. That process is underway once more in Major League Soccer as the league’s summer transfer window opened Tuesday, and for the Colorado Rapids, it will serve as one more step toward the club’s new direction.
“I think it is going to take three or four windows to get everything we want and everything in place,” Rapids general manager Padraig Smith said days before the window opened. “That’s normal with as many changes as we’ve made. We’re really looking to change the culture and the way we play. I think it’s going to be important that we continue to put the right pieces in place.”
In early August of 2017, Smith and vice president of business operations Wayne Brant penned an op-ed article in the Denver Post entitled “The Rapids Way,” outlining their vision for the club’s path to MLS success.
Nearly a year later, the Rapids once again find themselves struggling at the bottom of the table. Under first-year head coach Anthony Hudson, Colorado sits just three points clear of last place in the West with 15 points earned through 18 games played this season.
Despite the poor start to 2018, Smith stands behind his head coach and remains steadfast in the club’s vision.
“It’s been very disappointing and very frustrating, to be honest,” Smith said. “I think there’s a lot more talent in this group than the results would necessarily indicate. One of the things we’re looking for is progress. We want to play a more entertaining brand of soccer. I think we’ve seen glimpses of that. I don’t think we’ve seen it consistently enough and that is frustrating.”
It’s been a bitter pill to swallow, but Smith stands fully behind Hudson, who he hired after a “global search” towards the end of the 2017 calendar year.
“Anthony is every bit as frustrated as I am with the results and it’s something we speak about on a daily basis,” said Smith. “We’d obviously like for the results to be better and come a bit quicker, both of us would, but at the same time we understand that this is a long term plan.”
Colorado’s results are, in fact, worse than they were at this point last season. In terms of offensive output, however, there’s been a slight uptick with 22 goals scored in 2018 compared to 19 goals tallied through 18 games in 2017.
That output still hasn’t been good enough, and is one of the primary issues Smith is looking to address during the summer transfer window, which opened Tuesday.
“Obviously, we’re looking for reinforcements I don’t think that comes as a shock to anybody,” he said. “We’re still not scoring enough goals. I don’t think we’re creative enough at the moment, and we can certainly improve in terms of transitioning the ball from the defense to the attack.”
While Colorado is looking to fill in its roster at multiple areas of the pitch, the club isn’t expected to fill its vacant Designated Player slot during the current transfer window.
“There’s a lot of different mechanisms to how you can bring players into MLS, so it’s about taking advantage of those to bring in the right players,” Smith said of the team’s process. “From our perspective, it takes time to recruit players at that DP level … We want to make sure we’re ahead of the curve doing all that due diligence, doing all the scouting and putting ourselves in a position to execute on that when the time comes.”
The lack of a third DP has been a point of frustration within the Rapids’ fan base, as has the perception that Smith’s roster-building strategy has been too Eurocentric. To the contrary, the Rapids GM said he’s been working to expand the team’s influence in other parts of the world in preparation for the current transfer window and beyond.
“The next key thing is building out that scouting network,” Smith explained. “I’m going to be making quite a few trips to South America, Europe and Central America to make sure we have good connections.”
With the Rapids set to play an upcoming friendly against storied Argentine club Boca Juniors later this month (July 24), Smith sees a sign to the positive that Colorado is making forays into other markets.
“We’ve actually had a relationship with Boca over the past couple of months,” he explained. “We’ve talked to them about players and some of the things they’re doing, so I think you can expect us to keep growing that relationship.”
In addition to his focus on the team’s on-field product, Smith has also been working hard at a transformation behind the scenes. Colorado also made several additions to its technical staff during the offseason.
“To bring in people the caliber of Fran Taylor, Ena Patel, Chad [Kolarcik] on the sports science side and the entire coaching staff, we’re highly encouraged by that,” Smith continued. “We’ve taken a slightly different approach, but we’ve brought in some talented, hard-working people that know what they’re doing.”
All of those now involved with the club want to turn things around. But, as Smith explained, it will require the continuation of a measured and methodical approach.