MONTREAL – Many young players struggle to see action in their first MLS season. The expectation, however, is that those players will receive plenty of feedback from their coaches in an effort to get on the field.
For Montreal Impact midfielder Blake Smith, the reality in 2013 was that he didn't really get that communication, while his playing time dried up during the campaign.
What about 2014? The good news is that Smith is starting to get some answers from the Impact's new coaching staff.
“This year, I think the coaches have done a much better job of communicating exactly what they want me to do, and if I’m not doing something that they see as correct, they’ll let me know, which I appreciate,” Smith told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “So I think that, this year, there has been a lot less confusion in my head and a lot more confidence.”
Hopefully, more of that awaits the 23-year-old this season, as a lack of feedback meant that the confusion of his first MLS training camp carried on through 2013. Smith, the Impact’s first-round pick (8th overall) at the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, slowly built his body of work, tallying 229 minutes – and two goals – in 13 substitute appearances from late March to early August. From there, he came on for a mere three cameos totaling 38 minutes. He still doesn’t know why.
“I stopped seeing the field as much last year, and I had no real explanation for what I was doing wrong to not be on the field,” Smith said. “It was pretty stressful personally. Maybe, to my own fault, I should have gone to the coaching staff and said ‘What do I need to improve?’ This year, it seems different, and I think the coaches are making an initiative to come to the young players and let them know what they need to do better.”
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New Impact head coach Frank Klopas has also let Smith know that he was an attractive prospect for the Chicago Fire staff’s in the lead-up to the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, though a lack of first-round pick meant they couldn’t pick him up. It’s no wonder that the University of New Mexico product sees this season as an opportunity to find himself on the field more frequently.
“[Klopas] seems like a great guy,” Smith said. “No offense to [former head coach Marco] Schällibaum – it might just be the language barrier last season, because I like Schällibaum as well. But I think Klopas understands young American players and this league. I think he is able to put his arm around some of the younger kids and help them develop as players. That’s been very positive.”