Prior to last weekend’s home opener at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, the Colorado Rapids hosted a weeklong event in downtown Denver’s Dairy Block which featured current and former players, members of the team’s broadcast teams, hundreds of fans and Executive Vice President and General Manager, Padraig Smith.
In part one of this two-part story, Smith elaborated on why they recruited and hired Head Coach Robin Fraser, and why his vision of play complements the Rapids Way. Smith shared his expectations for the team’s offensive side, his long-term vision, and the forward-looking steps the organization has made since the close of the 2019 season. And the need for continued patience and faith in the process from the Rapids’ growing fan base.
In part two, we highlight how the team aims to improve by way of Colorado’s pool of talented youth, the “Drive to Youth” movement, why Drew Moor is back, and—last but not least—who he believes is the most improved player.
Targeted first-team improvements
Smith shared his insights as to how the Front Office is actively improving the roster by adding depth and young legs. “We are always looking to improve,” he explained. “We never want to stand still. We kind of say to players, ‘look from the day you come here, it is our responsibility to replace you, and it is your responsibility to prove to us that you should not be replaced.’ So that is the dynamic that every team is going to grapple with. But we always try to get better, in every opportunity.”
”We already have a player coming in July, maybe sooner, but most likely in July, in Braian Galvan. And we think he is an incredibly talented young Argentinean player that is going to be a really exciting one I think for the future, as well as this year,” Smith said.
It’s no secret that the MLS salary cap system is complex, but Smith believes that there are plenty of ways for teams to use their money wisely to improve their rosters.
“We have discretionary funds, and whatever designation we want to put on them, we put on them, in order to make ourselves better and in order to manipulate the salary cap in a way that will improve the team as a whole.” Smith elaborated, “So I am not worried about the labels. I know that is something from the media side, it is important. But honestly, as you are building a team out, it really doesn’t impact us.” He added, “[Philadelphia Union’s] Alejandro Bedoya was removed from being a Designated Player and put into the TAM slot. These moves are happening all the time behind the scenes.”
The team’s young, high potential defense is a prime example of targeted improvement. ”When we bring in players, we are thinking a long-term pattern here. We are not just thinking short-term,” Smith explained. “If you look at Sam Vines, and Keegan Rosenberry, who is just coming into the prime of his career and played in every minute of every game last year. Lalas [Abubakar] is coming through, Austin Trusty, and Kortne Ford, who we hope to get back, and bring him along nicely this season. And there is no better coach than Robin to bring that defensive group along.”
Rapids Ethos: We want to bring through the best young talent in Colorado
Smith sees the Rapids as the pinnacle of soccer in Colorado and knows the importance of bringing in young talent. “We have a depth of talent in the clubs in the state,” he said. “The Real Colorado’s of the world, these clubs are really producing some talented players, in addition to our own youth teams, our own [Development] Academy. There is a lot of talent here, both on the boys’ and girls’ side. That is a great thing for the State of Colorado, and for soccer in the state.”
Smith credits Senior Director of Soccer Development and USL General Manager, Brian Crookham, and Rapids Academy Technical Director and u15 Development Academy Coach, Chris Cartlidge, and the rest of the Academy staff for creating a “conveyor belt” of talent. Smith told the audience, “if you look over the last few years, and you look at Seb Anderson, Cole Bassett, Sam Vines, and Kortne Ford, there is a huge number of players coming through. This is a great thing for our club.”
Elite youth prospect development, the Rapids Way
One of the up-and-coming players that Smith mentioned during his talk was 15-year-old Darren Yapi. The young forward was on the preseason roster and recently represented the U.S. with the U-17 side.
Smith called Yapi a “very, very talented prospect” with a “very high ceiling.” He continued, “one of the key things that we have to remember is that we are dealing with human beings. Their progression is not always linear. It is not simply that you start off as an elite, high-level prospect and then in four years you’re an MLS player, and in four years after that, you are playing for the U.S. in the World Cup. That is not how it happens. There are lots of ups and downs when it comes to developing human beings and developing talent.”
When evaluating talent-rich youth, Smith expressed how important character and ambition is. “On too many occasions we have seen supremely talented players, technically gifted players, tactically aware players, but they don’t make it to the top. They do not have the right character, the mentality, the drive and ambition. The foundation that is needed to become that top-level professional player. And hopefully that is what we are talking about here [with Darren].”
He continued, “as we continue to watch his pathway and his development, we will continue to make sure we are putting him in the right position to succeed. If that means we challenge him at times, putting him in positions where he may fail, we will.” Smith clarified. “We will never put him in a position where we know he is going will fail. He may fail at along the way at different points and that then becomes how he learns, how he grows, how does he develop and further. So far, I think his growth has been first-rate. I expect big things from him in the future.”
During the Dairy Block event, the Rapids demonstrated their commitment to youth by holding an event for fans and media to meet 18-year-old midfielder Will Vint, 17-year-old homegrown goalkeeper Abraham Rodriguez, and their 2020 top-10 MLS SuperDraft pick, 22-year-old Jeremy Kelly, a very talented wingback who played for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.
Importance of bringing back MLS veteran and champion, Drew Moor
During the event, Smith addressed the significance of signing Drew Moor and his importance to the entire organization.
“It is huge, it is a big part of our plan. We have a ‘Drive to Youth’ plan here at this club, a commitment to bring though young talented players—it is something that we are not going to shy away from. But those players need guidance. They need experience beside them at training sessions, on the field, at games. And I don’t think there is anyone better than Drew Moor,” Smith said of the veteran centerback.
“He has been a championship player. And a championship player here, 10 years ago. Just like Robin [Fraser], he has a creditability level. He has played in the last three of four MLS Cups.” Smith wrapped up by saying, ”when you look at players like Lalas, Trusty, Kortne Ford—all young centerbacks in the beginning in their careers, having someone like Drew that they can talk to, and learn from—I think that will be invaluable for the group.”