COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Kosuke Kimura made a welcome return to the Colorado Rapids lineup Sunday night as a second-half substitute, two months to the day after suffering a stress fracture in his left ankle.
The Japanese fullback came on early in the second half against the New York Red Bulls to try and inject some more dynamism into the Rapids’ attack as Colorado pressed forward to find a winning goal. Even though that clinching goal never came, head coach Gary Smith felt the Kimura experiment worked overall.
“I thought we started the second half a little bit flat,” Smith said after the game Sunday. “I thought Kosuke might add a bit more going forward and I thought I was proved right. He was involved in an awful lot in the closing stages and he probably got himself into our most encouraging positions.”
That leaves a defensive selection conundrum for this weekend’s trip to Toronto. With Julien Baudet still out of contention with a hamstring injury, Smith feels he has five first-team players to pick from to plug the back four: Kimura, plus the starting back four from Sunday – Scott Palguta and Drew Moor in the center of defense and Marvell Wynne and Danny Earls as the outside backs.
Smith likes to keep his back four consistent so the players can build good relationships and understanding. But he’s more than open to putting specific players in for specific circumstances when the need arises, such as putting Kimura in against New York and pushing Wynne into central defense.
“I thought that adding Kosuke with a bit more energy to our attack out wide and to have Marvell’s sheer pace in the middle in the end proved right,” Smith said Tuesday after training. “They were limited to almost nothing in those last 30 minutes when Kosuke came onto the field.”
But Smith also thinks the second-half experiment in a 1-0 loss to LA back in early May – the same game before which Kimura went down – of shifting Wynne to the outside and playing two bigger central defenders in Baudet and Moor to combat bigger forwards in Edson Buddle and Alan Gordon, was also more effective.
In such a scenario this weekend, it would likely be Moor and Palguta to start centrally against Toronto, with Wynne on the outside, meaning Kimura would more than likely be back on the bench.
Smith, however, likes to leave his options open early in the week as he evaluates players’ level of fitness and health. Still, he would have no problem starting Kimura this weekend as the defender looks back to full fitness. The 26-year-old has worked very hard to get back physically where he needs to be.
“He’s high in my thoughts for this weekend,” Smith said. “He’s had a good period out, but he is one of those players who keep themselves in very good condition. He’s a naturally fit boy. I don’t think it will be a problem him starting.”
As always, having too many good players to fill too few spots is a dilemma coaches like to have. They also like to have incredibly hard workers who give their all for their club and don’t let disappointments drag them down overly. Qualities that Kimura has in abundance, Smith says.
“I think, throughout his life in general, he has overcome a lot of problems,” Smith said. “That is testament to the lad – he’s a very determined boy. We’ve got competition now.”