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Rapids GM Padraig Smith on roster decisions: “We need to continue to get better”

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Despite its ups and downs, the 2020 season was a fairly successful one overall for the Colorado Rapids. They finished with an 8-6-4 record and 28 points, good enough for 5th in the Western Conference by points per game, and they still would have made the playoffs in 8th place by points total. The Burgundy Boys lost to Minnesota United in the first round, but made the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and—unlike the 2016 season—they might have built something sustainable this time around.

Rapids Executive Vice President & General Manager Padraig Smith told the Burgundy Wave, “We very clearly pointed to 2020 as being a pivotal year for us an organization and as a club. We were very, very public and were very transparent with the fact that we needed to be in the playoffs this year—that was the aim, that was the expectation—and that we wanted to do it in a certain way. And that means playing soccer in a certain way—being more attacking and entertaining. I’d like to think we’ve achieved a number of those things... there’s no doubt we did it playing a really exciting brand of soccer—there was lots of goals, lots of good football. And I think that’s something we’re incredibly proud of, but we’re not going to rest on our laurels. We need to continue to get better.”

In previous years, getting better often meant an overhaul of the Rapids’ roster, but Smith feels that they have a strong core right now, so his first priority in the offseason was to bring back the majority of the 2020 roster.

“We’re very, very pleased with how the roster evolution has gone over the last number of years,” he said. “We feel like we have a good nucleus and a strong nucleus—one that’s able to compete—and showed that this year by not only getting into the playoffs, but having a very strong points per game record and we could have done even better had we been able to play some more games.”

Now that they’ve acted on options and re-signed a few players for the 2021 season, Smith says they can move on to their next priority: bringing in additions for a few key positions.

“When we started this rebuild process back in 2018, we had to turn over so many players that we knew there was going to be improvement. Now we’re down to a very few and it’s going to take special players to come in and make this better,” Smith said.

One of his main focuses this offseason? “Our attackers all bring different skill sets to the table and we want to bring in a really intelligent forward who can potentially start wide, but knows how to stretch the field, can get behind defenses, has real pace, and—most importantly—is goal dangerous.”

On the other side of the field, he has high hopes for centerback Auston Trusty, who Smith called a “really talented player” and said that “if you were to build a centerback, having a left-footed six-foot-four athletic centerback is exactly how you’d design it. When you look at that position, so much of it comes down to experience, an understanding and ability to read the game, and these are all things that come over time... I think Auston is continuing in his development pathway and I think he’s proven that he’s a very good defender in this league and we expect him to continue to improve and to continue to contribute to the group.”

He added that Danny Wilson and Auston Trusty have different skillsets that complement each other and depth in the positions creates a healthy competition, which is also what the trio of veterans in Drew Moor, Steven Beitashour, and Collen Warner bring to the table.

“Building a roster is a lot more than just what happens in any given 90 minutes of the game. You’ve got to fill the roster for an entire year and for a club like us that’s so focused on the development of young players, having good veterans around those young players is absolutely critical to their development,” Smith said. “In Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour, you’ve got two players who have done it over a number of years in this league at the highest levels and that have won trophies. That sort of experience is something the likes of Cole Bassett and Sam Vines—it’s invaluable to them. And the same applies to Collen [Warner]. Collen’s an experienced player in this league, he provides a solid backup for Pricey in the defensive midfield position, but even more critically, he keeps the standard of training sessions on a very, very high level. He keeps pushing players and pushing those around him to get better.”

There have been questions about Drew Moor moving into a coaching role after he retires, but Smith insists that “Drew showed last year that he can continue to contribute at that level, so I’m sure he thinks about these things, but my conversations with Drew have always been about what he can do for us in his playing capacity and that’s where the focus is right now.”

Between the sticks, discussions are still ongoing between the Rapids and Leon for goalkeeper William Yarbrough. “We’re hopeful that we can bring Will back. That’s certainly our plan,” Smith said.

The GM reiterated the importance of finding the right players to add to the roster, saying “there are nowhere near as many players that could come in and elevate this group, so we’ve got to make sure we’re getting the right players. We’ve identified a number in each position that we’re interested in and we’ll continue to actively try and acquire those players. Sometimes it’s a quick process, sometimes it takes a little bit longer, but the most important thing is ultimately you end up with the right additions to the group—that’s the key thing and that’s our approach.”

Smith also noted that “we can be selective here and we will only bring in the right players. And we will undoubtedly have additions in this window, but we may also wait to the summer window for some key additions as well.”