A common theme? Whoever takes the reigns in Colorado must stick to the principles that powered past successes, such as their Western Conference first-place finish in 2021 (with a club-record 61 points).
“What we've seen is a deviation from that club identity over the last 18 months, and I think that unfortunately necessitated the change,” said Smith.
“I think ultimately getting back to that and getting back to a situation in which everybody is clearly on the same page in that identity and principles model is going to be critical in this approach, in this hiring process.”
Fraser spent four years at the helm in Colorado, reaching highs at the onset before losses (alongside key injuries to Diego Rubio, Jack Price and others) stacked up this season. Now, as Fraser departs and Chris Little takes over as interim coach, the Rapids are on track for a last-place finish in MLS and have scored a league-low 16 goals, regressing amid roster turnover in some key spots.
Yet, put simply, Smith feels the Rapids are far better than what their record indicates.
“This is not a team that should have one win in 18 games,” Smith stated. “This not a team that should be 10 points off the next team in the Western Conference. This is not a team that should have less than one expected goal over the last nine games. This is not a team that should be wide open in transition moments. This is not a team that should be struggling to create chances for its DP striker.
“… I don't think there's any doubt this team is capable of much, much more than what we are seeing right now and that's certainly what we are expecting to see going forward.”
As Colorado chart a path forward, Smith said it’s “absolutely critical” their next head coach sticks to the club philosophy across every game. MLS experience is also a consideration, he noted, but not a prerequisite as more coaches from abroad enter the league and find success.
There’s also perhaps something telling in how Smith spoke admirably about Western Conference leaders St. Louis CITY SC and Eastern Conference powerhouse Philadelphia Union, both in club philosophy and roster spend.
“If I look at Philadelphia, I look at the work that St. Louis have done this year with an absolutely terrific performance from them,” said Smith, “those are teams that are not going to feature in the top half of spending whatsoever and those are teams that in Philadelphia's case are challenging every single season.
“I look at what they do and what they do well, I have huge respect for Jim [Curtin], for Ernst [Tanner], for that entire organization,” Smith continued. “That is an organization that is coherent in every action that it takes and in every step, that is the critical thing. They are efficient and they are effective in what they do. If you have a deviation from the plan, any crack at all, then that is going to widen over time and that is going to lead to inefficiencies. That's what we need to avoid.”
Smith also pushed back on the narrative that Colorado need to spend big to win, singling out how Toronto FC’s high-priced roster is bottom of the Eastern Conference table.
“What I look at is the efficiency of spend,” said Smith. “I think if you take the time to look at what teams qualify for the playoffs and what teams don't qualify for the playoffs, every year you're going to see as many big spenders in the playoffs and you're going to see as many big spenders out of the playoffs.
“There are numerous teams who have spent a lot of money but have not had any success. And I'm going to keep bringing this back to critical things: the efficiency in terms of the spend and the maximization out of what you've got. They are critical things. That is brought together by a coherent plan that is executed by everybody over an extended period of time.”
Following these guiding principles, Smith is adamant that Colorado won’t just be a playoff-level team but can compete for trophies. The outstanding question is whether a new coach, with Fraser on the outs, provides a long-term fix into 2024 and beyond.
“I certainly believe we've shown the ability to build a team that is capable of competing at the very top,” said Smith. “What we haven't done is win those games of consequence. What we haven't done is win in those biggest moments when we have the opportunity to get to the next level. I think that's going to be a critical part of this, of making sure that when we return to the playoffs as we expect to do next year, that we are able to win games of consequence.”