COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Rapids head Gary Smith hasn’t been afraid to stamp his own mark on the team's roster since taking over the reins late in the 2008 season.
Nowhere has that been more evident than in three specific trades which have been particularly controversial. Of those, two appear to have worked out very well and one remains open to question.
When Ugo Ihemelu was traded last season for Drew Moor in a straight swap with FC Dallas, it raised many eyebrows. Ihemelu had been a fixture in the back line for Colorado in the 2009 season and suddenly, he was gone. However, for all of Ihemelu’s athleticism, Moor is proving himself one of the best defenders in the MLS and is now vital to the Rapids back line.
It was a similar story earlier this year when Nick LaBrocca, another ever-present for Colorado, was suddenly shipped to Toronto for Marvell Wynne. Many Rapids fans felt dismayed at the time, but Wynne has been a raging success since making the move, playing every minute of every MLS league game.
Although the move for Wynne at the expense of LaBrocca meant losing a talented midfielder, it allowed the Rapids to cement Jeff Larentowicz’s position in central midfield. The former New England player has been instrumental in reigniting the Rapids midfield, Smith said.
“The change in the shape of the group has inspired a few more players,” the coach told MLSsoccer.com. “Jeff’s physical presence is something we sorely needed and it brings us a quality we didn’t have before.”
The one trade that maybe still irks some fans and has yet to prove itself as the right move is the arrival of Jamie Smith, who came in last season just before Terry Cooke, a long-time fan favorite, was waived by the club.
While showing snatches of form, Smith’s move has been complicated by injury. Last season, the wide midfielder suffered a season ending injury and, so far in 2010, he has been restricted to limited action in only two league games because of a persistent hamstring problem.
Smith said it was still too early to make any kind of judgment on his namesake.
“He is very talented, there is no doubt," Smith said of the midfielder. "But the answer whether it was a good or a bad move will depend on him getting a run of games. What people don’t know so much is that he brings a very professional attitude and is great in the locker room.”
Smith’s opportunity to at least try and get such a run started may come as early as next week, when the Rapids face New York in a midweek U.S. Open Cup qualifier game. Colorado will then play Seattle at home three days later in league play.
Rapids fans will now be hoping Jamie Smith gets the solid run he so desperately needs to stamp his own authority on the team. That could be another piece in the puzzle for coach Smith, who is increasingly happy with the way his player moves are working out.