Smith May be Rapids Wildcard

Scottish midfielder could provide Colorado a much-needed boost

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Barring injury, a World Cup call-up or a catastrophic loss of form, the front two for the Colorado Rapids largely pick themselves.

Omar Cummings and Conor Casey, scorers of Colorado’s three goals so far this season, aren’t going anywhere soon. Gary Smith also seems to be getting closer to figuring out a consistent line-up for his defense.

It’s the midfield that still poses some questions, especially out wide. While Pablo Mastroeni and new signing Jeff Larentowicz appear to be the favored duo in the center of the park, Smith still has some work to do on what might best suit the team on the wing.

Injuries have played a major part in the flanks still being up for grabs. Colin Clark is almost 100 percent after his season-ending injury last year and, if he can keep healthy, is a clear choice on the left side.

Mehdi Ballouchy, a more natural central midfielder, has started all three league games so far wider on the right, being replaced in the second half by either Wells Thompson or, in the last game against Kansas, by Jamie Smith for his first action of the season. Kosuke Kimura, who has started all three games so far at right back, could be another option.

Smith, a Scottish winger with ties to assistant coach Steve Guppy through their days together at Celtic, has himself been battling back from a season-ending injury last year. A hamstring problem at the end of preseason has further hampered his return.

But the former Scottish international got about half an hour under his belt in the league game against Kansas City and followed that up with about an hour’s work in the U.S. Open Cup victory against the Wizards on Tuesday. And he says it’s a relief to be back.

“Injury-wise, there’s been a number of setbacks,” Smith said after training Thursday. “I’m feeling really happy with it now.”

The five-day trip to Kansas had its ups and downs for the whole squad but was ultimately positive. Smith himself was just happy to get some game time.

“The game itself on the night was a bit disappointing as we didn’t take anything from the game,” Smith said of the MLS game Saturday. “I felt we deserved at least a point. We put a lot of hard work into it. Going into the game on Tuesday, I guess we kind of regrouped. There [were] a few changes made. The way we approached the game was fantastic. We worked ever so hard and we deserved the victory.”

After the narrow confines of the Wizards field, Smith said he was looking forward to making his home debut on the comparative hugeness of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park this weekend when the Rapids take on Toronto.

“The field we have here is fantastic,” he said. “It’s like a bowling green. It’s excellent and it’s really big. It benefits our game because we put more emphasis on passing and moving I think the field plays more to our strengths.”

Smith, whom Gary Smith brought to Colorado last season in a controversial trade that saw fan favorite Terry Cooke leave the club, will be anxious to impress after a stop-start career in the Rocky Mountains that has been curtailed by injury.

The Scotsman looks probable to start but he is taking nothing for granted and will be grateful for some quality time on his home field.

“The most important thing is we get the victory,” he said.