Gary Smith wants to reach the 30-point mark, and he would like to do that with a win at home by the Colorado Rapids against Chivas on Saturday. The Rapids head coach feels that the 30-point mark is a watershed from which a team can then push on to 40 points and the playoffs.
Last season, the Rapids narrowly missed out on the MLS Cup Playoffs when they totaled 38 points for the season. It would have been 40 points but for a last-minute equalizer by Real Salt Lake which saw the Utah team head into the postseason instead of their Rocky Mountain rivals.
The Rapids also missed out the previous season with a similar amount of points, and the coach knows that the team must reach the playoffs this season to avoid fan disenchantment and build confidence for next season as he molds his squad into what he hopes will soon be championship contenders.
But first things first and the need for the 30-point barrier to be reached as soon as possible. Last weekend, the Rapids controlled much of the game against Columbus Crew, but slipped to a 1-0 defeat and were unable to add to their total of 27 points for the season. That makes a win this weekend, in the last of three consecutive home games, vital for the Rapids.
"With then 10 games to go, I think 40 points would sneak us into the playoffs," Smith said, assuming a win on Saturday. "Ten points out of a possible 30. If we can't do that, you have to say we don't deserve it."
Smith knows that the barrier must be reached as soon as possible to avoid putting undue pressure on the team as it comes down the home stretch with some tough games both away and home. After Chivas, the Rapids will face Chicago away and Houston at home, two of the four best teams in the MLS, according to Smith.
"No disrespect, but Houston at home will be tougher than some of the away games we have," he said. Three of the team's last four games are on the road.
Smith knows that three points at home against a struggling Chivas side are far from guaranteed. Chivas have played little MLS soccer of late and have slipped far from the form they showed in the opening games of the season. However, Smith knows they will be eager to get into the Rapids and turn their struggling season around.
"One win in eight games, that makes them even more dangerous," he said. "If they can come away from here with parity, they know they will have done well."
Smith goes into the vital game with some question marks over the fitness of some key players. Conor Casey remains a doubt after missing last weekend's game against Columbus with a groin injury picked up at the All-Star Game. Central defender Cory Gibbs only returned to training Thursday following a calf problem, and club captain Pablo Mastroeni remains a doubt for the weekend. All three will likely play if passed fit.
Smith also has to deal with one enforced change following the red card issued to defender Ugo Ihemelu in last weekend's defeat. Thankfully, the Rapids are very deep in defense, and Kosuke Kimura, a recent match winner, will likely take Ihemelu's place at right back.
The coach also remains a little concerned about Colin Clark fitting back into the team after a lengthy spell with the national team. As he found with Casey when he returned from U.S. national team duty, such a long time away from the club with little actual playing time at international level can knock back a player's form and it can also take longer than desired to get back to where a coach wants them to be.
"Colin looked well below the level he was at when he left," Smith said of his midfielder's performance against Columbus. "He really does give us a natural balance, and we will be hoping for a lot more from him this weekend."
Nick Thomas is a contributor to MLSnet.com.