Good-bye, Gary. Good luck in your future endeavors, hopefully with a team that deserves your unique skills as manager more than we did.
I disagreed highly with the essential sacking of Gary Smith yesterday - technically it wasn't really a sacking since they simply let his contract ran out rather than slicing it short - you might have seen some of the vitriol I was spewing on twitter about it. This was not because Gary Smith was an amazing manager who didn't deserve to be kicked out of his chair; that's up for debate just like most other things are with the Rapids these days.
Gary Smith was what he was - a mediocre coach with a somewhat archaic but usually effective preferred style of play and a pretty darn good scouting ability that shone on the rare occasion that he was able to buy players. We'll get to his hits and misses in that regard later, of course. The point here is that it is certainly not Gary's fault that the Rapids are suddenly in such an existential crisis at the end of this lost season.
Gary has been a fairly mediocre manager since he signed on in late 2008. After all, his record is fairly middling (39-31-35) and the Rapids MLS Cup appearance that he orchestrated, while impressive, was built on luck just as much as it was skill. His flaws were almost all located in his managing style. He was seemingly far too focused on getting 'his guys' playing time over perhaps more skilled candidates.
Scott Palguta and Danny Earls for instance should have played themselves off of the team long ago but were stubbornly held onto by Smith, even when Anthony Wallace was actually available. Hell, Earls was actually traded away but then immediately picked back up by the team once Seattle threw him to the curb! Caleb Folan never seemed to really click with the physical style of MLS play but Smith continued to test his mettle week after agonizing week, rarely getting the results - or the goals - that the fans were clamoring for. Sanna Nyassi taking free kicks even when Jamie Smith was available for his specialty or Omar Cummings faltering on the wing, anyone?
Smith wasn't much of a quick thinker either; when Pablo Mastroeni went down before the early FC Dallas match this season, Smith's only reaction was to panic and stick the young Joseph Nane into one of the hardest positions in football to play - the box to box defensive midfielder. Naturally, Nane folded and the Rapids lost 3-0. The substitutes bench always seemed to be a mystery, with strikers being subbed for defensive wingers while down a goal or other head-scratching ideas. When injury struck, Gary seemed to lose composure on occasion as well. The huge injury spat early in the season led to some sickening line-ups to look at from Smith, lacking in chemistry on occasion and straight up lacking in talent on others.
It wasn't all bad though. He had his moments of genius in managing of course, creating the Conor Casey - Omar Cummings combo that was completely lethal in 2010 and growing guys like Kosuke Kimura into complete footballers. Where he really shone was in his moves off the field.
As flawed as he could be in management, he was a legend at scouting and dealing with player management for the Rapids compared to previous coaches. Remember, he did follow the guy who pulled off the infamous Mehdi Ballouchy for Kyle Beckerman trade, so anything better than that would have been an improvement. What we got were amazingly shrewd trades for Marvell Wynne, Jeff Larentowicz, Wells Thompson, Brian Mullan, Macoumba Kandji et al.
His scouting was fantastic as well, snagging guys like Andre Akpan and Eddie Ababio in the drafts and guys like Miguel Comminges up for depth purposes with the limited money he had available. Gary took a team that had almost nothing to it and built one of the best starting XI's in the league with an incredibly limited budget.
Unfortunately, that budget is what did the Rapids in when it all came down to the end. There was such a small amount of funds that Paul Bravo and Gary simply couldn't co-exist in the club. They both had visions of how the team should be run and there wasn't even enough room for one of them to get their vision, let alone both. This is why I've been saying that the problems for Colorado will not be solved by sacking Smith. The club needs a complete overhaul from the top down, from Stan 'Coupon Mom levels of frugal' Kroenke to Jeff Plush.
A club needs a commitment to win in order to win. Los Angeles has that level of success because they spend the money and hire the personnel to do so.
Our cross-mountain rivals Real Salt Lake have started to aggressively pursue success since getting their MLS Cup victory in 2009, coming very close to the CCL title and the conference finals for the West this season along with missing the Supporters Shield very narrowly last season. What happened to the Rapids after winning the 2010 Cup? Nothing but misery and empathy from the Rapids. Smith might not have been the best coach in the league, but hell if he deserved what he got in 2011 from his compadres in the front office.
Smith will forever be remembered for pulling together a group of low-paid pseudo-stars in 2010 and delivering us our first ever trophy. His downfalls aside, Gary was the best manager in the short history of the Colorado Rapids and we'll never forget him no matter how many successes may or may not be in our club's future. God speed, coach. May you find success elsewhere in a place that will give you the money to do it.