KANSAS CITY, Kan. — If Wednesday night’s loss to Sporting Kansas City really was the last game of the Gary Smith era for the Colorado Rapids, they went out in a fashion befitting their man on the sideline.
No, the result certainly wasn’t what they were after, especially after Smith piloted them to the franchise’s first-ever league title last year. But the tireless, blue-collar and often scrappy work ethic that has defined the team under Smith’s watch was in full effect until the bitter end.
Just how contentious Smith will be in the next few weeks about his future with the club, meanwhile, remains to be seen.
Smith’s tenure with the Rapids is certain as long as Dec. 31, when his current contract runs out. But before then, he’ll likely go back to the table with Rapids brass and see if they can hammer out a deal that will keep him in Denver and let him stay on with the team he helped build.
“There’s still mileage in my future with the club, I would like to think,” said Smith, who has a 39-31-35 regular season record and a 4-3 mark in the postseason in nearly four seasons with the club. “We’re working hard to resolve our differences. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort in trying to put this team together and there’s a lot of quality in this group. We were missing a lot tonight … but I’m very proud and grateful of what we’ve done, and I’d still like to be a part of that.
“Whether that will happen or not,” he added, “we’ll wait and see. Time will tell.”
Smith aired out at least some of his grievances with the club last month in the Denver press, saying that there was a lingering “relationship issue” between him and club technical director Paul Bravo. Smith is reportedly content with the financial terms of his new contract offer, but there are still some issues with the front office that need to be resolved.
But Smith insisted Wednesday night that the parties involved have taken strides towards an agreement in the last few weeks.
“I think there’s been a little bit of progress, and one or two feelings have been aired,” Smith said. “I hope we can resolve it. Whether we can or not, who knows.”
The Rapids players have long insisted that Smith’s contract situation wasn’t a distraction as they pushed to repeat as MLS Cup champions, a mission that ended at the hands of Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
“For a guy who’s come into the league, he’s done pretty damn well for himself,” goalkeeper Matt Pickens said. “Change is always difficult on a lot of players … so going and switching to another coach would be difficult for us, if that happens. You can’t ask for much more from a guy who’s come into the league and turned us around, won a championship and gotten us into the league two consecutive years.
“We know there’s consistency with the Rapids now, and I hope we continue that.”
In the end, though, the decision affecting the players on the field will inevitably be made behind closed doors, and the Rapids appear prepared for whatever decision comes.
“We know there are some conflicts going on, but that’s his battle to fight. We’re just the players,” defender Marvell Wynne said. “If Gary’s here next year, great. We know what he wants and what he’s about, and that gives us a starting point. But if someone else comes in, you gotta do what you gotta do.”