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The End of the Bench Warmer

Bulldog Ben has a reflective moment on Scott Palguta's release from the club and the end of the bench warmer.

Proof that Every Dog has his day.
Proof that Every Dog has his day.
Justin Edmonds

Scott Palguta is kind of a running gag here at Burgundy Wave. UZ and I made up the Scott Palguta Depth Meter, I think he may even be mentioned more on the Thugcast more than players who are legends at the club like Conor Casey or Pablo Mastroeni, and it's always an invective. "He might be bad, but he's not Scott Palguta bad" or "That's like... Scott Palguta bad."

Scott Palguta was released last Friday from the club in a waiver dump that included club legend Conor Casey along with bench contributors like Tyrone Marshall and new faces Edu and Luis Zapata. This was reported on Burgundy Wave as welcome news. But I thought it warranted a little bit of reflection on our part as to what exactly waiving Scott Palguta means to the club.

Scott Palguta was Gary Smith's signing, one of his first as manager of the Rapids. Pulled up from the Rochester Rhinos of USL, at which Steve Guppy was a player-coach. Palguta had tried to make his break into MLS several times before, with Real Salt Lake in 2007 and again with Red Bull New York in 2008. But it was the Rapids, and Gary Smith in particular, who gave Palguta his chance at an MLS contract. His stats remained unimpressive, and his performances as a defender could at best be described as "serviceable". While he received his most time in 2009, he saw it quickly drop as the arrival of Drew Moor and Julien Baudet in mid 2009 and the addition of Marvell Wynne in 2010 showed him where he would spend a great deal of his time: the Rapids bench.

And that's where he stayed. For. Nearly. Three. Years.

Think about that. On the bench for three years. Not a super-sub. Just mostly on the bench or not even in the 18. How can you? How can you even?

No one was calling for him to have more playing time. Even at our worst defensive moments, no one called for Palguta. In fact, every time each season ended, we wondered openly about whether Palguta would make a return for another season, as every time we had seen him on the pitch, he proved to us that he didn't have what it takes to be a first class defender in the league. But each year, someone must have seen something, said something, that kept his tenure on the Rapids so solid. Was it the goal that he occasional scored off a set piece? Was that it? That's how we rationalized it, or that he somehow knew where Paul Bravo buried some dead bodies.

But it was OK, right? He's on the bench. He's a bench guy. A reservist. No harm, no foul. And that's kind of how it is with a lot of guys who ride the bench. He may have some intangible influence on the team in some way. Yeah, that's got to be it. Intangibles. He add's 50% more grit and camaraderie to the locker room. Sure. OK.

This year, this season, through these cuts, the Rapids fans have got an answer: at least in some outstanding cases, this will no longer stand.

The new motto seems to be: get with it, get better, or get out.

What shocked me more about this most recent release of players wasn't that Conor Casey was released. That seemed to make sense from a business standpoint: $400,000 plus is asking a lot for a guy who has dropped in form as Conor has, and he recognized that as well. Hence "mutual agreement". What shocked me was that Luis Zapata and Edu were released. The reason: Scott Palguta.

Every year, Rapids fans would see many of the same faces coming back, even after their poor performances made us question what it was that kept them on the team. Scott Palguta, despite playing mostly a bench role for 3 years running, still put on the shirt. Still had the chance to represent the club on the pitch, and in certain scenarios, would be leading a back line for Colorado.

This off season? While we still may have those questions, we have a lot fewer of them. But that's just it: we've expected that this organization tolerated this kind of thing. I was honestly shocked to see Edu and Zapata off because I, as a Rapids fan, am used to seeing this kind of thing. I am used to seeing Scott Palguta put on the shirt even after years of me saying "WTF". After years of saying "how is it that the coach doesn't see that he's not MLS material?" and still seeing him suit up to put in another serviceable-at-best shift.

We are used to seeing that. We are used to screaming about it and pulling hair out over it and eventually resigning ourselves to a bitter shrug and saying "Well, that's the Rapids for you." Or "See, the coach is protecting 'his guys." Not anymore, apparently. This release of players over the course of this year has been a message, plain and simple, to the players and to the fans. The time of the "reservist" is over. The bench warmer is finished. There are no more "coach's guys." There is only the first team guys: Either you are a first team guy, or you're fighting to be a first team guy.

Some fans might still be pissed though, and that happens. Some might say we didn't cut deep enough. That we should have cut every "lazy" player or anyone who had a bad performance this year. That there are still "coach's pets" or "TD's pets" on the team. Now, to answer that, I have this question to ask: you may not trust in the people left on the roster to win you a championship next season, but which of the guys released this season could you count on, absolutely, to win you a championship next season?

If you saw a championship game and Scott Palguta was our starting Centerback, would you say that you felt pretty good about our defensive coverage for that game? Some of you out there might be saying something right now about grit and determination, about heart and how you really never know with the game of football how things will turn out. Sometimes people dig down and find something in them that turns them into an absolute beast for 90 minutes of glory. Sure sure, but counting on sports miracles does not a strategy make. So I ask you, how are you feeling about a Palguta-lead back-line?

If you don't feel good about it and smell an own-golazo coming on, then the question should be asked "Why is he on our bench?" Because at some point, he's going to have to step on the field.

And you know what? We don't have to argue about it anymore. And that's a weight off our shoulders as fans. The Rapids showed some backbone with these cuts, and this guy would like to see more of that backbone in the future. While I may not agree with everyone who is currently on the roster, I at least agree with who is no longer on the roster.