Gary Smith always intended to play his strongest, most experienced starting XI against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night. The trouble was, he couldn’t.
The Colorado Rapids head coach had to adjust his team for last Friday’s FC Dallas game with the Utah showdown in mind. He rested some regular starters as a result, and a late injury to Pablo Mastroeni meant he had to adjust further, throwing the far less experienced Joseph Nane into central midfield.
The experiment didn’t really work as the Rapids came out flat and were overwhelmed by a relentless Dallas offense.
On Wednesday night, Smith put out the most experienced team he had available. Conor Casey’s hamstring injury continued to keep him out, so Caleb Folan started up top with Omar Cummings. Highly experienced wide midfielders Brian Mullan and Wells Thompson, both rested from the match in Texas, started the game. However, most interesting was the fact that Jamie Smith started in the middle of the park because of Mastroeni’s continued absence.
It was a bold move from Gary Smith.
Jamie Smith played slightly ahead of Mastroeni’s regular central midfield partner and captain for the night, Jeff Larentowicz. The Scotsman, who typically plays out wide, has been in sparkling form for the Rapids this season and fans were eager to see him get a chance at starting in the middle.
He played there for a period of the game against Portland in the home opener on March 19, but that was when the Rapids were already holding a very comfortable 3-0 lead. A rainy and windy night in Utah against the impressive Real Salt Lake was an entirely different scenario.
Gary Smith said he was very happy with the way the midfielder acquitted himself.
“Jamie played slightly out of position and he was perpetual motion,” the coach told MLSsoccer.com after the game. “I thought he played some very nice passes and, like all the guys, the performance was so much better [than against Dallas].”
The only black mark — controversial last-minute goals aside — was another injury for Jamie Smith late on. Rapids fans have gotten used to seeing the midfielder sidelined with injuries since he joined the club back in 2009, and his good form this year has coincided with him being consistently fully fit for probably the first time in a Rapids shirt.
The coach said, on initial diagnosis, that Smith’s injury looked like it was more cramp-related than a muscular pull. The midfielder had been complaining of tight calf muscles after the last home game against D.C. United.
The coach added that forward Quincy Amarikwa's injury, who came on as a second-half substitute but lasted only a few minutes before going off with an ankle problem, looked “more sinister.”