COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The Colorado Rapids and the New York Red Bulls had been talking about a possible trade involving Macoumba Kandji and Mehdi Ballouchy for about a month. For Gary Smith, though, his interest in Kandji goes much further back.
The Rapids head coach told MLSsoccer.com that he had been interested in the Senegalese forward since his time with the Atlanta Silverbacks in USL-1.
“It’s always been uppermost in my mind to try and add him if at all possible,” Smith said. “He’s very athletic, very pacy and has the individual ability to create a lot of opportunities.”
The question remains: Where does Kandji fit in? He’s much more of an out-and-out forward than Ballouchy, who has typically played as a creative midfielder. Smith sees comparisons with Omar Cummings in the style Kandji plays and is clear that the young striker could take the Jamaican’s place if offers come in for Cummings from abroad.
While Kandji will definitely see some game time on an immediate basis, the move may be more of a strategic one in that it is paving the way for someone to eventually take the place of Cummings.
Cummings has already had approaches from several clubs and his red hot form makes such approaches even more likely. Smith is ready to make a deal if it is the right approach.
“Omar’s attracting a lot of attention and it’s not out of the realms of possibility,” Smith said of such a possible deal. “[Kandji] is a similar player. We have been searching for somebody that can achieve what Omar can do.”
If Cummings, who has two years left on his current Rapids contract, does stay until the end of the season in Colorado, Smith said he envisages the possibility of him, Kandji and Conor Casey playing as an attacking threesome, particularly at home. If Smith employs just two forwards, there could be some rotation of the three players going on in the run-in to the playoffs.
On the other side of the deal, Ballouchy was a little shocked at the trade, according to Smith. But the coach thinks the Moroccan will do well in New York, and the Colorado coaching staff all valued Ballouchy’s contribution.
“I think he’s done a wonderful job for me and has continued to improve,” said Smith. “He’s played a lot of football. His value was always very much understood inside the changing room and maybe sometimes not elsewhere.”
Despite Ballouchy's contributions in the Rockies, Mark Bodmer, head of Rapids supporters group Class VI, said the player always suffered in Colorado because of the trade that brought him to the team. The Rapids swapped popular midfielder Kyle Beckerman for the Moroccan in a deal with rivals Real Salt Lake in 2007.
“Although he was playing pretty well this season, he was always behind the eight ball with the fans here,” said Bodmer. “He never seemed to be able to shake off that [Beckerman] stigma.”