Rapids head coach Gary Smith gathered his troops a day earlier than usual this week to fly off to Boston for this Saturday’s game against the New England Revolution.
Rather than flying out the day before an East Coast road game, the approach this season will be different for Colorado. Smith, who typically leaves very little to chance, thinks that extra preparation in enemy territory should improve the camaraderie of the team.
“On a couple of occasions last year, we left the day before and we had some slight delays,” Smith said. “I think the extra day gives us an opportunity to take the journey on the chin, train when we get there and get the flight out of our legs. And also, I think, mentally, if you go the day before, the players know it’s a long journey, but we are here for a reason. Hopefully, it will give us that added percentage or two to win the game.”
Smith and the Rapids are buoyed by a 2-1-1 start to the season that has them in the thick of things in the Western Conference, but New England’s already had some early-season trouble. There’s been some dynamic shifts with the Revs, including the retirement of Jay Heaps, new signings and the stop-start nature of influential midfielder Shalrie Joseph’s availability.
“The New England side - 4-1 against Toronto - was nice and bright and purposeful,” Smith said. “But there are some difficulties within that group because of relationships and fluency. I think Shalrie has a big impact on that. I think at the moment you are seeing a Shalrie New England and a non-Shalrie New England. They look like they are lacking a bit of an edge and maybe something a little bit different, which is what he brings.”
Joseph has missed three of four matches this season with an injury, and Revs coach Steve Nicol said Friday that his superstar is unlikely to play on Saturday.
Smith also hopes that a new surface in Foxborough will be a little easier to play on than last year, when the Rapids eked out a 1-1 tie.
“From what I’ve been told, it’s a better surface,” he said. “Last year, it was really greasy. The turf had lost all its life. This year, the players, I am sure, are looking forward to playing on that.”
New England’s potential vulnerabilities and field improvements aside, Smith knows it will be his team that can shape their own destiny. Never a man to give anything away about his line-up, he did indicate that the hardman duo of Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz, returning to his old club, will be the keys to the Rapids midfield.
More surprisingly, he also hinted that in-form Wells Thompson may get the start ahead of either Jamie Smith or Colin Clark on one of the flanks. Thompson, also a former Revolution player, has so far come on off the bench in all four MLS league games this season for the Rapids. He scored both goals in the recent U.S. Open Cup victory over Kansas City.
“When Wells came on, he didn’t do anything that was overly cultured but I just thought it was all really confident and positive,” Smith said of his winger’s performance Sunday in the 3-1 victory over Toronto. “At the moment, for one reason or another, Colin (Clark) and Jamie (Smith) at the weekend were a little bit too precise and not as positive as I would have liked.”
Whatever the starting eleven, the Rapids’ squad is going East with confidence.
“The group has always been a lot clearer in their mind when you just say: ‘Listen, go and be positive,” he said. “It’s a game we can win, that we will be looking to win. The group should be extremely confident going there that they can do that. Whoever plays should be really positive about the outlook.”