“We’re looking to add somebody in this window,” he said. “We’ve got a target in mind, we feel like we’re close to finalizing that, so if things go the way we want over the next couple of days we should be adding one final piece to the roster, another attacker, a striker.”
Accelerated by the hiring of new head coach Anthony Hudson, the offseason overhaul was mainly designed to turn the Rapids into a more potent attacking outfit. Colorado tied for last in MLS with just 31 goals in 2017; they haven’t scored more than 40 goals or finished better than the bottom-two in scoring since 2014.
Smith, who has been with the Rapids since January 2015 and was promoted from interim GM to the full-time role in January, doesn’t need to be reminded about those struggles. He and fellow club executive Wayne Brant wrote about them at length last summer after the dismissal of former head coach Pablo Mastroeni in a Denver Post op-ed titled “The Rapids Way.” The piece highlighted the need for Colorado to sign “players whose first instinct is to drive forward, to seek out the line-breaking pass and to take on” their defender while building a system that allows “attacking players more freedom.”
Colorado didn’t show many of those qualities in their 2-0 aggregate defeat to Toronto FC in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16, but it’s very early – and Smith thinks the Rapids are on the right track ahead of their MLS opener at New England on Saturday (1:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE; on DAZN).
The Rapids, who were without Designated Player Shkelzen Gashi and 2017 TAM signing Stefan Aigner against TFC due to injury, used TAM to acquire midfielder Jack Price and forward Joe Mason from English Championship club Wolverhampton in preseason. They added Swedish midfielder Johan Blomberg in November and later signed American wingback Edgar Castillo and defenders Danny Wilson and Tommy Smith. All six should play big minutes in Hudson’s 3-5-2 this year, and Smith sees each of them – defenders included – helping Colorado’s attack through better buildup play.
“We’re very well aware that our attack hasn’t been good enough over the past number of years,” Smith said. “I think that stems not just from the strikers, but it also stems from our ability to control the flow and tempo of the game, advance the ball through the various phases of play and I think we’ll certainly be helped in that regard with the addition of Danny Wilson, Tommy Smith, Jack Price, who controls games so well and we think is going to be a key addition.”
But buildup play doesn’t mean much if you don’t have strikers that can finish consistently. Even with the addition of Mason, who scored just seven league goals in his last two-and-a-half seasons in England, Colorado’s forward corps is thin. The club currently have Mason, Dominique Badji, Jack McBean and rookie Niki Jackson as their pure forwards, though Gashi and Aigner are also capable of playing up top. None of their full-time forwards have ever scored more than nine goals in a single season as a pro, though Badji did hit that mark last year, his third season in MLS, after scoring six the year before.
That makes the potential new striker extra important, especially considering Colorado, who Smith said will spend a significant portion of their discretionary TAM, don't plan on adding a third DP this year to join Gashi and goalkeeper Tim Howard.
“We’ve brought in Joe Mason and we are looking to add another piece, like I mentioned,” Smith said. “We want to become a more attacking team. We want to be a team that goes out and looks to win every single game.”
Smith didn’t provide details on where the new addition is coming from, but the Rapids took a distinctly British turn this winter. Four of the six signings brought in this offseason have come from the England or Scotland, setting them apart from the many clubs around the league looking to Central and South America for their new signings. It may not match where most of the MLS went this winter, but the Rapids’ approach makes sense considering the backgrounds of the Irish Smith and English Hudson.
“Everything comes back to finding the best player available,” Smith said. “One of the things we’re quite keen on is building our scouting network out and ensuring we have contacts that span the globe so that we can continue to go out there and target the best available player for the Colorado Rapids. I think right now though, there’s no doubt certainly with my background, with my network it is stronger in Europe. We have more people there that we know and trust, we have a better scouting system there.”
The Rapids are high on their European additions, trusting them to play a major role on the field and in the locker room for a squad that Smith thinks is vastly deeper and more talented than it was at this point last year. They may not fully realize “The Rapids Way” just yet, but Smith feels they’re now on the right path.
“It is a process, there’s no doubt about that. But I think we’ve gone out of our way to really overhaul a huge part of the squad so that we have the ability to change things around as quickly as possible,” Smith said.
“It will take time for everything to gel, but… I like to think that our fans and the public will see changes right away that will continue to gel over the course of the season,” he added later. “For sure, for us we want to be a playoff team, we want to be in there competing for titles every year.”