COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Colorado Rapids head coach Gary Smith has had widespread criticism thrown at him lately for deciding not to travel to El Salvador for last week's CONCACAF Champions League match against Isidro Metapan and sending a reserve team down for the game.
Seattle boss Sigi Schmid, in particular, was not shy in voicing his opinion, calling Smith's actions "disrespectful to the competition... and to the opponent."
Now Smith has fired back at his critcis.
“I find it difficult to work out how a head coach from another club can offer advice to a team that, quite frankly, is so different to theirs,” he said. “Has he not got enough going on there? He’s in four competitions, he has no idea of the circumstances at this club.”
Unlike the Rapids, the Sounders traveled on charter flights on recent trips to Guatemala and New England. But the most important circumstance is that the Sounders have already qualified for the postseason. The Rapids have not.
Smith made it clear that his decision to stay behind to prepare the first team for last weekend’s FC Dallas game was to help focus the team to get in the right motivational spot to try and achieve a vital three points. At the same time, he was confident enough both in the players he sent and in sending assistant coach Steve Guppy down to El Salvador to take charge . Something must have paid off because the Rapids earned three points in both the CCL match and in Saturday night's match with FC Dallas.
“I have my decisions to make based on resources, based on players, based on what is important and vital to this club,” Smith said. “He didn’t need to make a comment. I’m disappointed he made one.”
The Rapids CCL squad certainly didn’t have it easy on the trip to and from and in El Salvador. Two flights on each leg of the trip, a four hour round trip journey between the hotel and the stadium, a missing cleats bag which meant players had to warm up in brand new boots purchased locally and the inevitable flight delays. Plus, there was the usual hostile crowd, questionable refereeing and difficult field conditions.
The adversity and criticism only made the CCL squad stronger, said midfielder Ross LaBauex.
“It was just a group of guys that knew it would be tough travel day,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “We got down there, our hotel was about two hours from the field, so it was a long bus ride up, it was a small field, the grass was not the best, sometimes the officiating is not going to be in our favor and then, to get that victory. was great. We also had a six-hour delay coming home and I was warming up in some cleats that were bought at the store down the street. It was a good (bonding) experience.”
Smith will be feeling fully vindicated that his controversial strategy worked. The Rapids are inching ever closer to the postseason and they now have their destiny in their own hands in CCL play when it comes to playing Santos Laguna Oct. 19 in Mexico.