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  • Richard Fleming

Comment: Rapids' GM Pádraig Smith - He Told Us So

As news of results elsewhere spread around DICK’S Sporting Goods Park last Sunday, it was met with an explosion of euphoria as fans, players, and staff were seen hugging, smiling, and cheering.

Scenes such as those witnessed have been few and far between these past few years. The roar from the fans, the outpouring of joy, the jubilation, the relief. And amidst the dousing of head coach Robin Fraser, and the ensuing celebrations, one man could be excused a quiet moment of reflection.

Pádraig Smith has been on a journey since late 2017. It has often been a lonely trek, during which he parted ways with a club legend, went off course with the appointment of Anthony Hudson, before finding a path paved with potential in Robin Fraser. There were temporary detours on the journey, also, with Steve Cooke and Conor Casey.

Along the way, Smith has not always taken the correct turn, but he has steadfastly insisted he was sure of the destination.

Smith is a numbers guy, and for the first few years as General Manager of the Colorado Rapids, the numbers did not make for happy reading.

The 2017 and 2018 seasons were among the most forgettable in club history, made worse in that they came off the back of a memorable 2016 campaign, which was ended at the Western Conference Championship game by eventual MLS Cup winners Seattle Sounders.

The 2018 season included miserable runs of first eight, and then seven defeats in a row. That season they were also dumped out of the US Open Cup at then-USL outfit Nashville.

If Smith was considering adjusting his lofty ambitions, then he wasn’t letting on, certainly not publicly. Instead, he continued to speak of a process and urged fans to keep the faith.

Under Hudson, the start of the 2019 season threatened more misery as the Rapids began 0-7-2. Hudson departed, Casey took charge, with Smith insisting that ‘this is not an 0-7-2 team’.

Few will have supported that claim, especially as the Rapids lost the first two games under the interim gaffer, to stand at 0-9-2, and the season was almost over before it had barely begun.

And then something remarkable happened. The Rapids which Smith had believed in, and in which he had insisted were lurking beneath the surface, suddenly emerged. From going 0-9-2 in their first 11, they then went 5-0-2 in the next in seven.

Fraser stepped in at the end of August, and the team won five of the last seven. From dead last, and seemingly set for a third season of struggle, the Rapids only missed out on the playoffs on the last day, with the shoots of recovery visible.

Last year, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, the Rapids reached the postseason for the first time since 2016 and kicked on again in 2021.

Smith has spoken in glowing terms about his recruiting staff, his coaching team, and those in the front office. Speaking to Altitude TV ahead of Sunday’s 5-2 home win over LAFC, Smith paid tribute to fans who had blindly joined him on a journey, destination unknown.

And so here we are. A record-breaking season, played with limited access to their only Designated Player, and with one of the lowest wage bills in all of Major League Soccer.

Few listened when Smith talked of his plans in the fall of 2017, or if they did, they may have found the words rather empty when witnessing what was on display. It was a tough sell.

Well, they’re listening now.

About the author: Richard Fleming has just finished his ninth season covering the Colorado Rapids in Major League Soccer. During 16 years with the BBC, he covered two FIFA World Cups, five Africa Cup of Nations, a FIFA Confederations Cup, and a European Championship. He has also covered UEFA Champions League, English Premier League, and football at all levels of the game during more than 30 years covering the sport.

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