As the official education partner of the Colorado Rapids, the UCCS Soccer Management Program gives students the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes with the Rapids organization. Connor Pabich and Sam Statton sat down with Rapids Sporting Director & Interim General Manager Pádraig Smith at the end of his his third season with the club to discuss the full process of building a roster.
How early do you meet with your technical staff before the transfer window to start to develop a strategy on what you want to achieve?
It’s a good question, but there is no one singular meeting that gets us thinking about an upcoming transfer window. The reality is that we’re always thinking about it. Our technical staff has a five-year rolling roster that we’re constantly re-evaluating and that’s what we work off when we’re building for both the short term and long term. We are constantly aware of what players we have under contract, what positions they’re playing in and what that looks like for the club over the next five years. It really gives us the ability to identify where the position deficiencies are going to be over time and then plot ahead. It also prevents us from being overly reactive in the player acquisition process.
I think something that maybe gets lost by the casual fan is how long the player acquisition process takes. It’s not easy to sign a player from Europe or South America so you have to be constantly looking and planning. We’re in perpetual dialogue with our coaching staff so that we have a concrete, collective understanding of what our immediate, medium, and long-term needs are. Now add in to that process the role of our development academy and the players we see coming up through that system who have a good chance of being a backup or a potential starter, and now your have – in theory at least – a very good understanding of where you are as a club and where you need help from the market to make your team better.
Going along with that, do you focus more on foreign players, domestic players, or is it pretty even?
That might be a slight over-simplification as our player acquisition strategy is rooted more in philosophy than geography. At the end of the day, our guiding light is to bring in the players who best help our club – both from a soccer and cultural perspective. Our front office has spent a lot of time talking about the type of team we want to be, the types of players we need to help us create that team. And from that, what we’ve determined is that we want players who play with boldness and urgency. Players with high soccer IQ and game intelligence. Explosive players with good mobility. Players whose first instinct is to drive forward, to seek out the line-breaking pass, and to take on his opposite number. Players who, at the end of the day, exhibit the same burning desire to win that we do.
Whether those players come from Europe, South America, here in the United States, or even our own Development Academy is less important to us, because ultimately, we have the ability and infrastructure to go out and get players from all those places. So, the most important thing for us is knowing the type of player that we’re looking for. That’s the starting point; that’s the guiding light.
You said you do a lot of in-depth scouting to find that perfect player, but how to prepare for a transfer that falls through and how do you recover from that?
The golden rule is that you never want to have all your eggs in one basket. Deals will fall through. It happens. It’s a reality of the business and it probably occurs a lot more frequently than people realize. To help mitigate any potential fallout from something like this, we want to have a depth chart three to five players deep depending on the position so that when something unforeseen happens, it’s a simple case of next man up. If it doesn’t work out, we have to move on. I think in my time here, that’s something we’ve been pretty good at. It takes a lot of work to lay out advanced planning like that. But it’s worth it.
When you do speak to international prospects, is there a list of frequently asked questions that they have for you about MLS?
Where they are in the career is a big factor here. For more mature players, the biggest thing is how it’s going to affect their family. And fortunately for us, that is the one thing that is a definite positive for Major League Soccer in general. The lifestyle for players is fantastic, especially if you’re coming to a state like Colorado. We have a very, very high quality of living that we can offer.
I’ll give you an example. When we brought Stefan Aigner over from 1860 Munich, he could almost immediately see that this was a place where his family could really settle in and really enjoy their life. I think in many ways that comfort has freed him up to focus on soccer. One of the most detrimental circumstances to any player is if they’re plying their trade in a place where their family is not comfortable. It rarely works out well under those conditions. So with Stefan, being here in Colorado with his wife and young son, you can tell that they are genuinely happy… and in return that has paid dividends for Stefan on the field as he continues to help our squad.
But with that said, whether it’s Stefan, or Anthony Hudson, or Tim Howard, these are top level professionals. And once they know their families are in a place they can be happy, it’s the club and what we’re trying to accomplish that is most important.
Obviously, Denver is an amazing place to live. The people, the natural beauty, the outdoors, the vibrant downtown. All those things are extremely attractive for incoming coaches and players.
But we say it all the time, it’s incredibly important for people to know who we are – a club that wants to represent and embody our community and our supporters in the best possible way; what it is we’re trying to accomplish – develop in to a perennial playoff team capable of bringing an MLS Cup back to Denver; and how it is we want to get there – evolving in to a more complete, aggressive, forward-thinking team.
Add in to that our young, talented front office staff, and increased focus on the more modern aspects of the game, e.g. sports science, data and analytics, etc., stadium and locker room improvements, passionate fans, and the core group of players we have here and this is a really great opportunity for anyone looking to come be a part of something special.
And I think our ability to acquire the type of talent we have, and are going to continue to bring in, is emblematic of that.
One last thing on this that shouldn’t be overlooked is the knowledge of MLS that the foreign players now possess. The TV deals that Major League Soccer entered have increased exposure in Europe and around the world, and bringing in world-class players like Kaka, Villa, Gashi, Doyle, Pirlo, etc., has had a tremendous impact. When we go to talk to international prospects, they are far more fluent on what’s happening in MLS than they were even just a few years ago
What determines whether a transfer window what successful or unsuccessful?
That’s a cool question and one we think about a lot. The truth is that it takes time and there is no singular metric that determines success. As I touched on before, we go into every window with the idea of what we’re looking to add to our group. As I said, it’s always part of a bigger plan. Anyone that thinks one window will dramatically alter everything single thing at the club isn’t thinking long term.
For us as a club, we really try to look at it from two perspectives: short term and long term. For us, we can narrow things down and simply say ‘okay, we have x number of targets. Did we get those targets? Did we bring those players in?’ That’s great, but it takes time for these players to acclimatize, especially those players coming from Europe and South America. It takes time to get used to the climate changes, the travel, the style of football, the altitude here in Denver. It’s almost like a draft, to really determine how successful it has been you need to look at the success of the player over the period of their contract. That’s what we do. We measure everything is short, medium, and long term.