Here we go again, deja vu
with knobs on one more time. The Colorado Rapids have gone for an English coach. They should take a look at their own history. Their very first coach, back in 1996,
was a highly touted Englishman, Bob Houghton. A total flop who was fired after just that one season. Having brought with him his English notions about soccer, having failed to realize that they're not
good enough for the American scene.
Now they give us Gary Smith. Also replete with English ideas. With depressing predictability, Smith's first move was to appoint an English assistant,
Steve Guppy. Heaven forbid that there should be any diversity among the coaching ranks. I can confidently predict that Smith and Guppy will soon be off on a recruiting trip ... they will go to
England, of course, because that's all they know.
Smith's appointment is another of those "easy decisions" made by general managers -- take the guy already in place, the former assistant.
We saw exactly this happen in Dallas four years ago, when Mike Jeffries was canned and the then Dallas GM Greg Elliott (a soccer know-nothing, he who infamously told us how important it was not to
"pander to the audience") claimed to have had hundreds of applications (or was it thousands?) before he settled on Colin Clarke -- the Englishman who was already there. And that didn't work out too
The Rapids GM Jeff Plush is treading the same route as Elliott. No soccer background, but apparently the ability to make soccer decisions. He gives his reasons for appointing Smith
as "His leadership and coaching, as well as the team's response to him on the pitch ..." Note the use of the word "pitch" -- a silly affectation that Plush no doubt believes gives him soccer cred.
Smith's record while performing as the interim coach (following Fernando Clavijo's departure) was 5-4-2, hardly a record to suggest anything earth-shattering. But it is not so much the
stats that interest me as the action on the field (that's American for "pitch", Jeff).
I'm looking at how
the Rapids played in those 11 games. I saw enough of them to know that
all the ghastly old English shibboleths about the game were at work here -- the frantic charging about, the long ball, the huge battering ram at center forward (yes, take a bow Conor Casey). And a
disdain for anything that looks like genuine midfield, creative play -- no time for that amid the physical helter-skelter of good old British get-stuck-in direct play.
Of course, all that
banality can be dressed up in standard coaching drivel to make it sound positive. "They're fighters. They're more organized. The players know their roles" -- that's what former U.S. international
Marcelo Balboa has to say about Smith's Rapids. And Smith, in a pregame interview told us that he wanted to "make sure that every individual mentally is fully prepared ... we're looking towards that
real discipline and determination . . ." And so on. Sounds great. Pity there's nothing there about actually playing soccer.
As for that "role playing" mentioned by Balboa. There's one
guy whose role is clearly understood: Cristian Gomez, whom Smith, with his English wisdom, has banished to the bench. The highly skillful Gomez, already an MLS Cup winner with D.C. United, and the
league's MVP in 2006, is not good enough for Smith.
That really tells us everything. Rather than finding a way to use Gomez's immense skills, Smith prefers to avoid the complications that
might involve, and simply drops him.
But even that soccer solecism should not surprise. Smith's coaching background in England reads like a crash course in primitive soccer. Spells with
Wimbledon and Watford -- probably the two worst teams ever to sully the Premier League with the crudities of their physical, long-ball approach.
It is intriguing to note that alongside
Balboa, a couple of Rapids players have praised Smith -- Mike Petke, like Balboa, a robust defender, and Pablo Mastroenni, a skillful midfielder given to disastrous bouts of getting stuck in (e.g. his
red card in the fatal game against Italy during the 2006 World Cup).
I recall asking Houghton, back in 1996, what the Rapids might do to attract Hispanic fans. He looked at me blankly,
and it became obvious that he was unaware there were Hispanics in Denver, and what that might mean anyway. That was not in the least surprising for an English coach of that era.
would be nice to find that we've advanced, and that even English coaches have progressed. Sadly, nothing I see of Smith's team, nor anything I hear from him, gives rise for optimism. A small but
significant detail: Smith talks of "managing" the Rapids. No, Garry, in this country you're the coach, not the manager.
The manager, the GM, is Jeff Plush who, among his many
achievements (non-soccer, all of them) in a very busy life, lists his membership of the advisory board of the Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. You have to wonder how that group might feel about
Smith's grossly insulting treatment of Gomez.
But Plush is perfectly satisfied -- listen to this: "The first thing you see is a real interest in what he [Smith] would call 'playing
football' ... That's what Arsenal does all the time. Not just lobbing the ball forward and playing in a direct fashion. Playing the game the way it's meant to be played."
For a start,
yes, Smith would call it "football" -- a pretty good example of the way English coaches refuse to adopt American ways. It's called soccer here Gary. As for Plush's intricate knowledge of soccer
tactics -- he might do better actually looking at games than listening to his "manager." Can Plush really believe that the Rapids under Smith looked anything remotely like Arsenal?