Rapids feel they're ready to defend MLS Cup title

Gary Smith meets the media

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Heading into Thursday’s wild-card matchup with familiar playoff foes Columbus Crew, (10pm ET, steamlined live on MLSsoccer.com, TSN2 in Canada) defending MLS Cup champions Colorado have nothing to prove to anyone.

At least that’s what head coach Gary Smith believes.

“Yes, there will be a few people we’re trying to prove wrong,” Smith told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday. “But I think when you’re in this game, it’s a matter of keep proving yourselves right, rather than others wrong. We are delighted to be in the playoffs and we are now battling away with [nine] other teams to defend our title in the best possible fashion.”

The current MLS Cup holders are gearing up for the visit by Columbus after a trying season on and off the field, which has proved extremely difficult for Smith and his coaching staff.

“We’ve had so many injuries, especially in the early part of the season,” Smith said. “At one point of the season, all four of our first choice and senior center forwards were injured. It’s not been easy to cope with and it starts to affect the fluency with any team.”

With the injuries and other issues, Smith feels his side may have a chance of replicating last year’s run to the final, as they have gone about their business largely unnoticed by the rest of the league.

“I think the season has suggested that we might be one of those teams again that might be under the radar,” Smith said. “But I think we have earned more respect now. When the team performs well week in, week out, then it earns respect throughout the league.”

The Rapids finished the regular season with 49 points and in fifth place in the West. In 2010 they also finished fifth, but with 46 points. The similarities are striking as Smith prepares his side for a run at a second consecutive title.

However losing Anthony Wallace, Jamie Smith, Conor Casey and Marvell Wynne for prolonged periods of time during the season has proved taxing on the Rapids. Throw in Gary Smith’s lingering contract dispute with technical director Paul Bravo into the mix, and it’s been a testing year for the coaching staff in Colorado.

But the Englishman is keen to put his contract dispute behind him and focus on the clash against the Crew.

“It’s a process that’s on-going, it’s a situation that I hope can be resolved. At this moment in time it's one that needs some more airtime, but after the playoffs,” Smith said.

When asked if he had thought about Thursday’s encounter and that it might be his last game in charge at Colorado, Smith replied in emphatic fashion.

“Just think about winning it," he said. "That’s my only thought.”