COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – No rest for the victorious. Colorado Rapids head coach Gary Smith was back in his native England this month, mere weeks after leading his team to the club’s first-ever MLS Cup title. MLSsoccer.com caught up with him before he left for his trip to the UK to meet with his contacts at Arsenal and began planning for a busy 2011 campaign for his MLS championship-winning side.
MLSsoccer.com: How much of an achievement is it for the Rapids to have won MLS Cup?
Smith: When you look at the lack of previous achievement in the club, the difficulties of making the playoffs in the last few years, where the morale and confidence of the squad was three years ago and some of the many difficulties surrounding the club, it really is an incredible achievement. We really are the Blackpool of MLS.
MLSsoccer.com: What chance do the Rapids have of retaining the Cup and who are the biggest threats to that?
Smith: It’s been done before. We would have to keep the group healthy and strong throughout the season, but I see us having as good a chance of winning it as anybody else. I think New York had a fabulous season and you have got to think that those guys, with Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez, are one of the teams that will be seriously challenging for it. Dallas and Salt Lake are also serious challengers.
MLSsoccer.com: How can you strengthen this team?
Smith: The first step is to keep the group pretty much intact, and then we want to add incrementally strong players to the squad. We lost two defenders in Julien Baudet and Danny Earls, so it would make sense to strengthen that area again. That’s important. I think we need another center back and I’m looking at someone in England. With the injury to Mac Kandji, it’s possible we may move for another forward. We’ll be looking at younger players from abroad, we’ll be focusing on the draft, and I think we have to look also at USL to add guys who can add something to this group.
[inline_node:324187]MLSsoccer.com: What about some of the current younger players at the club and their role going forward?
Smith: Well, there’s the reserve league for a start. I also see the likes of Ross LaBaeux, Andre Akpan and Steward Ceus giving us some games in the [US] Open Cup and some even in CONCACAF [Champions League]. With Andre and Quincy Amarikwa, these are two young guys that deserve an opportunity to show what they are about. I think, particularly with Quincy, he has to show what he is about and, is he going to find a way to score 10 goals?
MLSsoccer.com: With competition high for your wide midfielders, how do you see that situation sorting itself out?
Smith: I have no intention of moving any of my wide guys. All four wide players [Brian Mullan, Jamie Smith, Wells Thompson and Sanna Nyassi] are all very similar in that they understand the defensive side as well as they do the attacking. Sanna may be the one lacking experience the most, but he works ever so hard. He’ll just have to learn how to come in a bit narrower when defending. Wells is so adaptable that I also see him moving into the middle a bit more or even at fullback.
MLSsoccer.com: What about adding a creative midfield player, similar to David Ferreira?
Smith: He’s a great player but, if I got someone like him, I doubt I could play both Omar [Cummings] and Conor [Casey]. I’m not sure how that type of player would fit in.
MLSsoccer.com: Have you got a lot of response from the UK about the MLS Cup success?
Smith: I’ve had a lot of contact from people in England. There are also one or two people in England who have been making contact with me and some whispers about opportunities over there. I’ve even got my own agent now for the first time ever.
MLSsoccer.com: What can be improved after a season when the club won the championship?
Smith: There was that middle period where we didn’t win for nine games, including drawn games we should have won. So, we want to continue improving in our consistency through the year so that we can add to our points tally and continue to improve our way up the table. Our goals for and goals against improved again, and that will continue to be a focal point.
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