Coach Gary Smith holds CONCACAF Champions League in high regard, but has a unique approach to succeeding in both CCL and MLS.
It is one of the thrilling parts of the world’s game. With every championship, a new door opens to play in different leagues against different styles of play, all while giving priceless experiences to every team involved as they strive to win another cup.
The Colorado Rapids were crowned the MLS Champions last November, when they defeated FC Dallas 2-1, allowing them to lift the MLS Cup. The MLS Championship served as a golden ticket to enter into the first stage of CONCACAF Champions League; the best of the best from North and Central America, along with the Caribbean, competing for the CONCACAF Champions League Cup.
This is the first year Rapids head coach Gary Smith has had to take the complicated route leading to two different championships. His roster decisions and comments after CCL losses brought much criticism from fans and supporters who understood the eminence of CONCACAF Champions League.
“There is a challenge when you are successful,” Smith says, “which we were last year, to embrace the next step which is in this country, Champions League. It is a competition I’ve no doubt come into some criticism for, but it is a competition that I do hold in high regard.”
In an effort to have two successful matches this week, in both CCL and MLS, Smith chose to send assistant coach Steve Guppy in his place with the squad that boarded a plane Tuesday morning to face Isidro Metapan in El Salvador in a CCL group stage match. Coach Gary Smith stayed home in order to work with the first team in preparation for the Rapids MLS match against FC Dallas on Saturday.
The group playing in CONCACAF Champions League match Wednesday night will be filled with talented and determined Rapids players, but the majority is reserve players. Will it be good enough to keep the Colorado Rapids in the running for the next stage of CCL?
“These decisions don’t come lightly,” coach Smith explains. “I think there will be a core of first team players that will be used over the weekend that I’ve tried to protect for the coming weekend. I want to give the core of the group some freshness.”
“The side that goes [to El Salvador] will give a wonderful account of themselves,” the 43-year old coach continues, “and have a good opportunity to win a game that we all know could lead to whether it be to immediate qualification or wildcard qualification.”
The Rapids have struggled with getting results in the CONCACAF Champions League. The performance has been impressive at times, but the MLS Champions have ended up at the bottom of their group.
“There have been some small moments that cost us dearly,” Smith admits. “Is that not experience? Is that not learning? The guys that have performed have given a good account of themselves, and on one or two occasions just fallen slightly short.”
“I’ve got two competitions to balance here,” Smith shares, “I’ve tossed and turned every evening making sure that each group is in the best possible shape to succeed domestically and in the cup we are in.”
Colorado Rapids face Isidro Metapan Wednesday night in El Salvador. Fans can watch a live feed at the British Bulldog, 8:00pm, or wait to watch the match shown on delay at 10:30pm on Fox Soccer Channel.
Additional reporting by Tim Gardner