On Monday, Colorado Rapids President Pádraig Smith sat down with local media to discuss the club’s activity during recently closed Secondary Transfer Window, as well as provide his thoughts on the team as it enters the final third of the season this weekend.
Reaction to the Rapids’ season thus far
The Rapids have experienced a tough stretch in the 2023 season with just three wins in league play through 23 games. Smith doesn’t believe this is reflective of the quality of the squad and cites the club’s record 2021 season, where the Rapids finished atop the Western Conference and advanced to the Conference Semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, as the standard that needs to be upheld.
“I’m bitterly disappointed, as we all are, and incredibly frustrated to be honest with you at the results that we've had this year, at the position we are in the league at this point in time. I don't think it's an accurate reflection of the talent that we've got in that locker room, and it certainly is not where we want to be.
I think with that comes the necessity to really take stock and to make some difficult decisions. We've got to look at this holistically and examine what exactly is needed to get us back on track, and I think as we look back now, 2021 needs to be the standard. That needs to be the standard at which we accept nothing else, and quite clearly, we're not there this year. We weren't there last year, either.
Any time we miss out on the playoffs, that's not what we want. That’s not where we want to be. Obviously, we missed out by four points last year, but to be as far off the pace as we are right now—albeit still within a shot, and I think that's a very important thing—but we are clearly not where we want to be, so we are going to take stock of that.
We're going to make the difficult decisions that are needed to get us back on the pathway, but from an overall perspective, in terms of the type of club that we want to have, the standards that we're going to set, the demanding nature that we're going to impose, I still believe in the pathway and I still firmly believe in the plan to get us there.
But no, this year has not been good enough. It's not been acceptable and that's something that we are very, very motivated to rectify immediately.”
Smith described how some changes have already been made to begin correcting course and make the most of the remainder of the season.
“When you talk about accountability, we all have to look at the role that we have in this, and ultimately, we have to make some tough decisions as we move along through this. If I'm saying that it's not acceptable, then we're going to make changes. We are going to make changes that started with some of the moves that we've made in this window. Obviously, we've brought quite a few players in, but we've also moved on from some players. There will be more to come in the offseason, as well. This is going to be, to a large extent, a transition. There are a lot of players who've been here for quite some time and they've got 11 games to go this year and 11 games are still a lot of time for us to do a lot in this league. We're going to have to see how that plays out, but we're certainly not going to rest until we're back where we want to be.”
In-season roster moves and navigating injuries
The team has been hit with multiple injuries this season to key players, hampering the potential of the group. Four-time team MVP and club captain Jack Price suffered a season-ending injury after tearing his Achilles just weeks into the 2023 MLS campaign, while the Rapids’ leading scorer in 2022, Diego Rubio (16 goals, seven assists), has featured in less than 30% of all available minutes this season.
“To lose [Jack Price] was a real blow and then losing Diego [Rubio], as well. For both of them to be out was a challenge.
As we looked at it, we certainly had our focus on adding a couple of players in the summer window. And I think what certainly hasn't gone to plan was the fact that we are not as close to contention as we wanted, needed and expected to be, so we felt that the group coming in now would have been adding to that and would have been improving on the position that we're in. While we're obviously thrilled to be able to bring in the players that we did—[Andrew] Gutman, [Marko] Ilić, [Rafael] Navarro and [Sidnei] Tavares—we're disappointed that we're adding those on to a team that isn't where it needs to be in the standings right now and in the rankings, so that is incredibly challenging.”
In acknowledging this year’s battle with injuries, Smith shared what the club is doing to mitigate that from happening as frequently moving forward.
“I do look at the muscular injuries that we suffered this year and that was troubling to me, greatly troubling to me, because if you look back at ’20 and ’21, I'm not sure we suffered a muscular injury all year.
There’s the old saying about the best ability is availability, and obviously when you build a roster, it is important that they're all available because that's how you get the strength of that roster and the benefit from that roster. We've taken a deep dive at that, and I think many of you will know Steve Tashjian from his time with the U.S. Men's National Team and with Gregg Berhalter at Columbus, as well as with Everton in the Premier League before. We recently brought Steve in as a consultant to do a full, deep-dive review of the club’s performance and medical areas to make sure that we were leaving no stone uncovered in terms of making sure that we were doing what was right and what was needed to put our players in the best position to succeed and be available on a Saturday night.”
What to expect from new players Rafael Navarro and Sidnei Tavares
The two latest additions to the club are Brazil native Rafael Navarro and Portugal-born Sidnei Tavares. Navarro comes to the Rapids from defending Brazilian champions S.E. Palmeiras, while Tavares joins the club from Portugal’s FC Porto after making his professional debut in the Premier League with Leicester City. Navarro saw his first minutes of action in Colorado during the Rapids 2 match against Houston Dynamo FC 2 last week, where he logged 45 minutes, which Smith spoke to.
“That was [Navarro’s] first real go at a game setting at altitude, which is always good to get that under your belt. He was excited. We were excited to see him. He got two goals in the [intra-squad] scrimmage on Sunday, which was good for him to just get more minutes at altitude and in this environment.
I think he's exactly what we hoped. He is the prototypical number nine for this league: he’s goal dangerous, he's constantly looking to get into the box, he's constantly looking to get in good positions to finish things, he can run in behind… you can play him as a target guy because of his size and strength, and he's just a great character, as well. He works incredibly hard, which is something we've seen all throughout his career in Brazil and there's been no let up since he got here. Incredibly excited to see it in MLS action, but so far, I think he's fitting incredibly well to the group.”
Smith’s thoughts on midfielder Sidnei Tavares:
“Sidnei is an incredibly athletic player who covers a ton of ground and is technically excellent. You don't get to play any minutes in the Premier League if you do not have real quality. What we wanted to see here, and I think what will ultimately determine his success, is that mentality and that drive. We want to be a team that plays with urgency, with intensity and then with boldness. I don't think the boldness is going to be an issue for him at all. But we need to see him come over here and show the level of urgency and intensity that we feel is going to be needed to get us back to where we need to get to, so if he comes in and shows that, then I think his natural talents will ensure that he's a really good performer in this league.”