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Good bye to Fraser, hello to another Pádraig Smith press conference

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

"Our fans are rightfully frustrated"- Pádraig Smith

You probably saw a lot of those thousand-yard stares from Colorado's head coach recently. You know the look. Distant. Despondent. Discouraged. One win in the last 18 matches doesn't exactly bode well for anyone not to mention a head coach. Scoring 16 total goals this season and a grand total of four goals since June 3rd is historically … bad. It's been one rough loss after another that's left us all thinking, 'it can't get any worse, can it?'

Well, Head Coach Robin Fraser was officially fired on Tuesday, September 5th, so yes, yes it can. Assistant Coach Chris Little takes over as the Interim Head Coach. The Colorado Rapids made the aforementioned moves following the disastrous 2-0 defeat to archrivals Real Salt Lake on September 2nd. In his four years at the club, Fraser had a 47-48-34 record across all competitions including consecutive postseason appearances in his first two full seasons. In 2021, he led the team to their best regular season points total of all time as the club topped the Western Conference for the first time in history. However, the two-time MLS Defender of the Year was ultimately not able to succeed. You could argue he was rigid in his system and relied on an overly defensive shape. You could argue he was never given the tools to succeed. You could argue a lot of things when we're talking Rapids ball right now

One thing that's clear in my eyes, is that the failures of this club do not rest solely of the shoulders of Robin Fraser. The front office, the ownership group and the players deserve blame as well. The front office has failed to build a roster that is competitive in MLS. The ownership group does not appear to have any ambition whatsoever. The players haven't performed well on the field. Many veterans have regressed while the youngsters haven't stepped up.

The turnover in the squad since their successful 2021 season has not been good enough. Since losing on Thanksgiving Day in MLS Cup, they let go of guys like Sam Vines, Kellyn Acosta then his replacement Mark-Anthony Kaye, Auston Trusty, Cole Bassett (who has since returned after an unsuccessful stint in the Netherlands), Mikey Barrios and Bryan Acosta. Sam Vines left a giant hole at left back that is just now being filled and who knows if Gutman will even stay beyond the next 8 games. The replacements for these key players have completely missed the mark and don't even look like MLS starting quality players. Yes, injuries have been bad, especially this season, but good teams can overcome that. To make matters worse when it comes to player turnover, the Rapids have a massive off-season coming up. Diego Rubio, William Yarbrough, Danny Wilson, Andrew Gutman, Sebastian Anderson, Steven Beitashour and Michael Edwards are all out of contract at the end of the year. Danny Leyva returns to Seattle as his loan expires at the end of the year as well. Numerous other players on the team are playing for their future whether that's in Colorado or elsewhere. New signing, Los Tico winger, Luis Diaz will have 8 games to impress after being signed off waivers.

This is not a surprise to anyone but there are very few players on this current squad who are "safe". Andreas Maxsö and Moise Bombito are two defenders the club can absolutely build around. Retaining one of the better attacking fullbacks in the league, Andrew Gutman, must be a top priority. I honestly do not think a single central midfielder is safe and is a position in need of clear upgrades. There are question marks about Jack Price's ability to bounce back from his recent injuries including his season long absence from an Achilles injury. Calvin Harris has shown promise and is clearly the best winger on the team in my eyes. Some of the youngsters like Darren Yapi and Oliver Larraz will surely stick around too. Big picture though, the whole squad can expect a shakeup. Competition in each position is important. Just look at the keeper position and how much brining in another keeper pushed Yarbrough to improve his game. The guys know it, but this is a major wakeup call, and they all have a few games remaining to show what they got.

The Pádraig Smith Press Conference

On Wednesday, the Rapids held a lengthy press conference where club President Pádraig Smith had a lot to say. One thing that was very clear to me was that despite starting with "I take full responsibility" he then proceeded to lay blame on the Head Coach. Perhaps he didn't say it directly but the inference to me was crystal clear.

“Unfortunately, what we have seen is a deviation from that club identity over the last 18 months, and I think that, unfortunately, necessitated the change. I think ultimately you know, getting back to that and getting back to a situation which everybody is clearly on the same page in that identity and principles model is going to be critical in this approach (to) this hiring process.””. What is not clear to anyone watching this club however is a very simple question. What club identity?

What I think Smith is aiming for with the club identity aspect is having a specific philosophy and playing style baked into the club. Then to fit the right coach into that system. Not a common approach but that's what they're going with. Normally a head coach would dictate the formation, tactics etc. but moving forward what we can expect is for the front office to acquire a head coach and players that fit a 433 formation where the team plays well in transition. He really hammered this point home which was speed speed speed. He wants fast wingers and fast play, mentally, from defense to attack and vice versa.

No matter the identity, system, tactics or philosophy; Smith reiterated the club's ambition to "bring an MLS Cup home to Colorado". He felt that this team isn't one he expected to be at the bottom of the table. To lose this many games and to score so few goals. A very thinly veiled jab at the coach if I've ever seen one. Anyway, the press corps in attendance asked if you must spend in the top 10 of MLS for example, to compete. His response was, ‘no, look at Philly and St. Louis'. Ok sure, they tried the same Moneyball type approach but ultimately Philly hasn't won a trophy. The spending of Philly on wages may be similar to the Rapids but Philly still spent big bucks on key players like $1mil on Bedoya, $1.8mil on Gazdag and $2.8 mil on Uhre. Can Rapids (or diehard MLS fans in general), imagine a world where the Colorado Rapids Soccer Club has three players that were transferred (from abroad no less) for $1mil or more?!?!

Spending money in MLS does not directly lead to success. That is clear. As Smith pointed out, look at a club like Toronto FC. They spent a ton of money this past season and the results have been atrocious. There must be balance and you must spend smart. However, it does feel that there is a floor in terms of spending to really compete for a trophy. Or compete at all in MLS. I do not think it's unreasonable to ask for some kind of increase in spending and investment from the club. After all, it's not like the owners don't invest in the other sports teams they own. If they can spend $250 million on Arsenal's transfer budget this summer alone, is it really too much to ask for a few guys in the $1-5 million range? We are not asking for a superstar $8 million transfer fee. Or beyond the "stars" of the team, to raise the overall spending on those squad players to make the team more competitive?

To make matters worse in the financial department, when asked about any increase in investment from the Rapids ownership group, Kroenke Sports Entertainment, the answer was essentially a flat no. This means the club must continue operating on the margins. Finding the best "bargains" in the league. Hoping the potential of a young player will come to fruition. This is not encouraging news for Rapids fans nor MLS fans in general. The club is risking being left behind as the top clubs in the league are pushing forward while Colorado is stagnant at best.

Smith did indicate that the North Boundary patio was exciting, that the in-stadium video board is a top of discussion and vaguely that other stadium/facility improvements are being discussed currently. Fans have pointed to the quality of the stadium and the obvious need for upgrades. Based on Smith's answer, you can likely expect minor cosmetic changes if anything. Perhaps he can't divulge this information until the appropriate time, but fans are looking for any positives to hang on to in a desperate time.

Taken as a whole, the only net positives are Smith's candidness and the fact that he said he takes responsibility. This is a good thing. Everything else after those opening remarks did not inspire confidence. You would think after a historically awful start to a season like this, that substantial changes would be coming. To be fair, is it reasonable to expect Smith to bite the hand that feeds him? And publicly, no less. I certainly do not. I do however want to see a change in the way we approach recruiting new talent, the spending/transfer budget and stadium improvements.

Nobody at the club nor on the field is happy with the way things are going. This should be obvious. So, in the next match against the New England Revolution, we need to see the Burgundy Boys playing with a new sense of freedom. Giving it everything they got. Chris Little is a very competent interim manager to have in your arsenal and I could not feel better about his appointment for the remainder of the season. It will be intriguing to see if little names a 433 formation with traditional wingers and the team really goes for it. I think fans are sick of seeing an overly defensive shape to the team. It is one thing if your defense is stout and ours is simply not right now. A breath of fresh air is needed and hopefully that is delivered in short order.

Pedal to the metal Burgundy Boys. Time to turn this around!

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