What I'd like to first note about this, as no doubt you already have, is that this is by no means meant to be a transcript of my conversation with Colorado Rapids President and CEO, Tim Hinchey. This was, as I said to Tim, just meant to be a conversation around some questions I had about the team. And I took note of some of the things he said in response to my questions.
A little background as to why I wanted to talk to Mr. Hinchey now, as opposed to earlier in the season: to be frank, as a Rapids fan during this time, it was hard for me to focus on what "the plan" was. Feeling rather negative, and at worst, despondent, I wanted to hear something from the leadership of the Rapids as to some very basic questions.
My first question to Tim, who was very gracious with his time, was about the "brand" of the Rapids. I wanted to know what he thought the brand of the Rapids was, and I'll explain what I meant as I give you what I recollect of his answer.
He first wanted to make the distinction of "brand" from "marketing": the Colorado Rapids brand is what the club "is" as opposed to how it's being promoted and disseminated, which is marketing. So my question to him was about what the Colorado Rapids are to him.
His response had to do with almost two separate "phases" of the brand. The first was summed up in the "#OneClub" slogan. The slogan was meant to represent the club at a time of consolidation. As we know, the Rapids went through a total clearing of house following the end of the Plush Front Office and the Gary Smith era of coaching. The new slogan is "Colorado For Life" as the Rapids attempt to embrace "Colorado". They want to be "Colorado's team" as opposed to "Denver's team" or "Colorado Springs' Team" alone.
Which sounds great and everything, and to be honest, it looks great too. I don't have any complaints about how the club has embraced the state in things like their alternate kit colors. I was also glad to hear that the sales of Rapids related merchandise is up as well. That's all great.
But what I wanted to know about, specifically, was the on-field product.
This whole conversation was sparked by a RT Tim Hinchey made with this article on MLSsoccer.com about Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City.
But what about Colorado? Are we there yet? Are we looking at "The Colorado Way"?
Hinchey said no.
We haven't quite gotten to the point where we've developed a "Colorado Way" like the way Sporting have "the Sporting Way" and Salt Lake have "the Real Way?" (I don't know, I made that up). As the article highlights, those two clubs, in spite of not doing things the way the Galaxy or the Red Bulls do things, still found success because they do things consistently their own way. They have their own style, their own distinctive "way".
And Colorado does not. That's a fact. There is not, on the field, a definable "Colorado Way". And while I think we made progress during the time of Pareja -- we started to see something of a "Colorado Way" -- that progress ended with his departure. Now, we've had to start again with, Hinchey admitted, a first year coach.
At this point, I want you to understand what exactly that means. "First Year Coach" means not "First Year as a Head Coach", which would have been Pareja, but "First Year" as in, this is the first coaching experience he has ever had. Hinchey had no illusions about this. Oscar Pareja already had nearly 10 years with coaching experience at the assistant and youth coach level with FC Dallas.
Hinchey was acutely aware of this key distinction.
What Hinchey emphasized was not Pablo's inexperience, to which many of us (including Hinchey) partially attributed the results to (he used the term "inconsistency", which I think we can all agree is pretty much how we'd describe it as well) but he emphasized instead Pablo's loyalty to the Colorado Rapids.
And yet I detected a little inconsistency myself when I pushed on the "Well, in an ideal world, what is the Colorado brand of soccer?" question. What does the President think that a Colorado team plays like?
1. Takes advantage of the altitude
3. Possession oriented
Those are the five points that Hinchey mentioned as being what he thought of what a "Colorado Way" would be.
Do you think we're hitting all those points?
Any of them?
Right now, I would have to say no. And that's where we get into what you might call "spin" or "excuse making" but that's not what I was interested in. We could say it's because of personnel: a rookie coach, maybe not all the right players. But that's not what I wanted to know and I'm pretty sure it's not what you want to hear either. So what I wanted to focus on, after talking about brand, was who on the team, did Tim Hinchey think, epitomizes the Colorado brand that he wants to be a part of building.
One thing I do want to say before we move on is that there's an awareness of the more "conservative" direction Mastroeni has taken with some of his tactical decisions. Also there's an awareness of the change in confidence in some of the younger players. Chris Klute, Hinchey observed, has been playing more defensive and further back than he did last year when he was frequently involved in the attack. Could be confidence. Could be just the instructions he is given. Could be that he's playing as a right back due to injuries.
This is nothing that no one else watching the Rapids wouldn't have noticed. Point is, we've all seen that there's a difference, and the Rapids aren't where they want to be, nor where anyone expects them to be. Both in terms of performance and in terms of fulfilling the "Colorado Way".
Hinchey mentioned a few players to me wo he thought he wanted to build around: Clint Irwin, Dillon Powers, Shane O'Neill, Dillon Serna, Deshorn Brown, Chris Klute, Gabriel Torres, Vicente Sanchez, and Marlon Hairston. Now, that doesn't mean that he doesn't like any of the other players on the team, but that these players are the sorts of players he thinks of as being "Colorado players." Franchise players. Core players.
As he put it, using Paul Bravo's favorite term: "difference makers".
Apparently, we don't have enough of them at the moment. Or, if we do, they are injured.
I asked him if he'd pick one out of all of them, out of all the players on the Rapids, who is the epitome of what the "Rapids player" is, and he responded "Dillon Powers".
Intelligence, Technical Skill, and Confidence. Those are the key points of what Hinchey wants to see in Rapids players.
What was notably omitted, and Hinchey mentioned this as well, was that they aren't looking as much for someone with a ton of pace and power. They are looking for players and to develop players with a "soccer brain" or "a high soccer IQ" or "soccer intelligence". That's actually a set of phrases I've heard from both Hinchey and Crookham and I highly suspect Bravo and Mastroeni would say the same things.
Should we expect to see a busy off-season, then?
According to Hinchey, yes. We're going to see a busy off season. I don't want to make too big a deal of this, but he said they are looking at bringing in a 2nd DP in the January window. I didn't want to pry into it much because it's a while away so I don't know how far along the talks are. It's not important at the moment. But it's interesting to hear that there are plans in the works for next season.
Hinchey also emphasized that the Colorado Rapids want to have he best development system for players in the United States. They want to push even further with their partnership with Arsenal FC, especially with the Manchester City NYCFC partnership coming next season. Great if it goes forward. Though we have heard that before. Also important to note is that they are looking at a PDL side in the near future and a USL-Pro side further down the line. A USL-Pro partnership announcement is coming soon (September is the goal). The ultimate goal is to have the Women's Team, PDL, and USL-Pro teams all playing at DSG Park.
Hinchey had also re-tweeted Bruce Arena's incendiary (but no doubt, unpunished) comments on the MLS rules regarding player allocation. I'm not going to re-post them, you can probably find them here. So I wanted to know what Tim Hinchey would change, if he could, about the MLS Rules. He would have to think about it. But overall he thought the rules need to be more clear and more streamlined.
Kind of generic, I know. But that's not uncommon in answers about the league policies by someone other than people who are beyond reproach or reaction from the league (see: Arena, Bruce).
All in all, it was a nice chat, and I hope it leaves you guys with more questions than answers.
Like, for example, if Tim Hinchey thinks of Gaby Torres as being player who is so important, why is it that he isn't seeing the field? Why is it, in fact, that he is, according to a recent tweet from Chris Bianchi, "unhappy"?
I think that order to get more answers, we need to first know at least what the ground situation is. Who is it that the Colorado Rapids think they are supposed to be?
I think this was a pretty good start to what I hope is an ongoing conversation with Rapids.