ColoradoRapids.com spoke with the Rapids Executive VP and GM Pádraig Smith about the team’s mindset going into this offseason, potential player and staff movement, how the club feels looking ahead to 2021 and more.
ColoradoRapids.com: What is the mindset and what are your goals for the club this offseason?
Smith: Our main priority in this offseason was to bring back the vast majority of the group. We spent a number of years trying to build a roster that we felt was a strong combination of youthfulness, experience and talent across the board and provided depth in all of the key positions. We’re really comfortable with the group that we have and excited about what their potential is. We know we took our time to release our roster movement following the season and that fans have eagerly awaited the information, but we wanted to make sure we had our veteran deals taken care of behind the scenes before doing so, and we’re thrilled we were able to do so this early into the offseason.
Looking forward, we want to continue to have that strong foundational piece and then to go and be very selective in adding one to three players that we feel can really elevate the group as a whole. I think this is a key change for us this year. That’s great credit to the scouting department, the analytics department, the coaching staff and our ability to identify and recruit talent over the last few years to put ourselves in a position now where it’s a much smaller level of turnover that we’re looking for. It’s really now consistency and being selective in adding key pieces to elevate the group as a whole. For instance, something we want now is someone who can really complement our forward group. We are looking to bring in an intelligent forward who can start wide and knows how to stretch the field, can get behind defenses with pace. We want someone who will be dangerous in front of the net and work well with the wide variety of skillsets of our attacking core.
ColoradoRapids.com: What about this team, specifically, stands out as the right group of players to move forward with next year?
Smith: The character and the mentality of the players and staff that we have right now is really at the highest level. It gives us an opportunity, week in and week out, irrespective of what challenges we’re faced with, to compete. I think you saw that over the course of the 2020 season. There were a lot of obstacles. There were a lot of challenges to be overcome. Yet the group never allowed anything to get to them, they never allowed anything to put them in a position where they weren’t able to focus and concentrate on the most important thing, which was qualifying for the playoffs. That’s a wonderful attribute. That’s something that will really stand you in good stead as you go through the inevitable ups and downs of a season. We’re very proud of the character and mentality of the group. That’s something we spend a lot of time looking for when we recruit new players, and it’ll be a key attribute of any player we add to the group going forward as well.
ColoradoRapids.com: What about additions or changes to the technical staff?
Smith: We will be looking to make additions. We unfortunately lost [assistant coach] Darren Bazeley over the course of the year, who chose to go back to New Zealand to be back with his family during the pandemic, and we’ve waited on hiring a replacement for that position. We’re also looking at a developmental coach as well. As the game evolves here in the United States, and more and more Homegrown players get signed, there is a real need to ensure that we’ve got somebody that’s focused not only on the tactical and technical aspects, but also the mental development, so our young players can ensure that they’re in an environment in which they can meet or exceed their potential. They’re additions we’re looking to make in the offseason.
ColoradoRapids.com: It’s no secret that some Rapids’ youth players have acquired European interest. Do you expect any moves on that front this offseason?
Smith: Interest from Europe in our players is inevitable as we continue to grow and develop, and I think it’s something we should take great pride in. You can see over the last number of years, the number of players who have moved from MLS into European competition are really contributing, which is fantastic, not just for the individual clubs, but for the development of the game in the United States as well.
We’ve got some really exciting young prospects here, and their performances have led to interest around Europe. So far, nothing has happened that has led us to a position where we felt it was the right move. We’re very collaborative in our approach here. We keep our players aware of what’s happening when it comes to these potential moves because we want to create an environment where players know they’re being looked after as well. If the right opportunity arises, and we feel it’s best for the player and best for the club, then we’ll make the move. If not, though, then we’re excited to see where our young players can contribute to us as we move forward and look to bring another Cup back to Colorado.
ColoradoRapids.com: Looking at 2021, how do you expect this team to continue to evolve and improve?
Smith: We’ve almost been the best kept secret in soccer in the United States over the last couple of years. For two years now, this has been a very talented group of players. They’ve accumulated the sixth-most points per game since May of last year, fourth-most goals per game in the league. There’s a real foundational piece there that we can grow from. As with anything else, when you have a young team, you have to go through the process to gain experiences along the way. I think that’s what our players did this year. We’re expecting the group to take another step forward. We’ve not been shy about our ambitions. We expect to be a playoff team every year, and we expect to compete for Cup.
That’s not easy though. This is a strong and talented league, and there are a lot of teams that are putting themselves in that position. We feel, if we can continue with our plan, continue to execute as well as we’ve done, and continue to recruit with an eye not only on the technical and tactical pieces but on the character and mentality, then we will continue to improve on the progress we’ve made in recent years. We’re hugely excited for 2021 and to see the further development in our players.