[MLS]When the season began, the two most tenuous head coaches were Fernando Clavijo in Colorado and Sigi Schmid in Columbus. One is riding high, the other just got dumped. With one-third of the season to go, Schmid is firmly entrenched, as is the Eastern Conference leading-Crew. A surprise firing in Dallas (Steve Morrow) and a shocking-yet-not-surprising dismissal (Ruud Gullit) in Los Angeles preceded the seemingly inevitable departure of Clavijo, who left the country last week to be with his seriously ill brother in his native Uruguay and on Monday officially terminated his tenure.
Clavijo, 52, was in the final year of an extended contract. He gained some breathing space when the Rapids got off to a fast start and led the Western Conference for the first few weeks, but the team's offseason hiring of Englishman Gary Smith as assistant coach reflected the growing influence of managing director Jeff Plush, who assumed his position a year after Clavijo was hired. Smith, who has been named Colorado's interim head coach, worked for Arsenal as a player scout in Spain before behind hired by the Rapids.
Plush helped broker a marketing and cooperative partnership with English Premier League club Arsenal, which stocks the pro shop at Dick's Sporting Goods Park with Gunners jerseys and other gear. Kroenke Sports Group, which oversees operations in the sports enterprises owned by MLS operator-investor Stan Kroenke, markets other properties such as subscriptions to Arsenal TV. Kroenke owns 50 percent of Arsenal Broadband Ltd. and 12 percent of the team itself.
Colorado traded its Designated Player slot and a first-round 2009 SuperDraft pick during the offseason to obtain former D.C. midfielder Christian Gomez, despite Clavijo's objection to giving up the DP slot.
The Rapids (7-10-3, 24 points, fourth in the Western Conference) beat Kansas City, 2-1, last week in Clavijo's absence. He departs with a 40-49-25 mark in Colorado since taking over as head coach before the 2005 season. He mastermined playoff eliminations of FC Dallas in 2005 and 2006 but was unable to get the Rapids into the postseason last year. In 2 ½ seasons coaching New England his record was 22-31-13.
Smith, 39, played for English clubs Barnet, Fulham, and Colchester. He holds a UEFA "A" coaching badge and began his coaching career with Wimbledon F.C. as a senior level coach. In 2004, he became the assistant first team coach for Wycombe Wanderers and also served as interim head coach following the resignation of former England international defender Tony Adams.
Smith took over as Watford reserve team coach in 2005 before joining the Arsenal organization.
Colorado has two tough road tests coming up in its playoff quest. It plays at D.C. United Saturday and at Real Salt Lake Aug. 29.