By Stephanie Gardner,
It can be described as the day unofficially dedicated to announcing shocking results. It was the MLS Roster Freeze Deadline, September 15, 2010, 5:00pm ET. After that moment, no changes could be made to a teams’ roster and disability list, until the day after the MLS Cup.
The days leading up to September 15 were especially significant for the Colorado Rapids. Days filled with decisions that not only affected the lives of 5 players, but also may change the course of the Rapids’ season. After the dust had settled from the whirlwind of trades, the Rapids final 2010 roster included Macoumba Kandji (photo), forward, from New York Red Bulls and Brian Mullan, midfielder, from the Houston Dynamo. The Rapids had to say a heartfelt goodbye to Mehdi Ballouchy who moved to New York, and Colin Clark now in Houston. They also had to cut Mike Holody from the roster, with hopes of signing him back on in the spring.
How does a committed team survive such dramatic changes this late in the season? The answer is simply two words, Gary Smith. He is the head coach of the Colorado Rapids, who began his career playing for Fulham in his native country, England. Gary is the wise overseer that plans on making this new dynamic group of players a successful team by the end of Saturday’s game against New England.
When asked about what the new players bring to the team, Coach Smith states, “The pair of them, I think, add some much needed experience and individual quality. Within both of those guys it’s what we’ve needed.”
At the expense of gaining these two extremely talented players, Coach Smith wore heavy on his heart the fact that the Rapids were parting ways with Ballouchy, Clark, and Holody. “Losing Mehdi and Collin who were obviously team players, and Mike as well, one of the biggest challenges with any team is building spirit, togetherness in that locker room, and good relations. To lose players always has a detrimental effect to the group, because all three of those lads, fabulous personalities, good professionals, and good friendships throughout the team. So it can affect some of the players in very different ways.”
Coach Smith explains the dramatic task of trading. “It is a real shame to have lost those lads, and because of the way this league is run, it happens in an instant. It doesn’t happen over a period of time, where I can speak to them about possible moves, or their future. It happens very quickly, and they are never nice conversations, especially when you have got a good relationship with the players. Both Mehdi and Colin have been absolutely fantastic since I have been here, and I have a lot of respect for those players. For different reasons, I just felt it was important to add the two guys we have. Be it short or long term.”
Macoumba Kandji just played against the Rapids last Saturday night in New York. How does a switch like that affect a player who had his start off the coast of West Africa in Dakar, Senegal? Kandji explains, “It doesn’t. Everything went by so fast. I just want to play some football. I am just so happy to be here.”
When asked about his reaction to finding out he was moving to Colorado, Kandji admits he was surprised with the trade, but identifies Coach Gary Smith as the one who made him feel comfortable. “The coach here is very nice, very welcoming. When I spoke to him on the phone, I was very excited to get here.”
Coach Smith describes this talented forward by saying, “Kandji adds what I think we’ve lacked in a good amount of time, which is a third genuine forward. That’s no slight on Andre and Quincy, but they are young guys. They are lacking experience in the league, and improving all the time, but we now have three genuine players, probably more importantly, a real fill-in for Omar. There has been a lot of publicity about the possible move for Omar, and who knows in the future? It’s always nice to stay in front of the game.”
Brian Mullan, the skillful MLS veteran who has won two MLS Cups, was also taken by surprise at the trade. He describes it, “experiencing the range of the emotional spectrum; leaving the organization and team members and coaches that I have been with for 8 years, friends there, and you know, fear, nervousness, elation, everything. I mean, I’m happy to be back. Happy to be near family. Happy to be at a great complex like this, you know. First rate stuff around here.”
The Rapids, as a team, have also been great to both these players. Yet just like Kandji, Mullan mentions that it has been Coach Gary Smith who has made the trade easier. “I have been very impressed with Gary. He welcomed me straight off, very personable, and I enjoy the way he coaches, and gives precise information. He let’s you know what he is thinking.”
According to Coach Smith, “Brian’s been there. He has won championships. He’s coming back on. He has a wealth of experience in this league, which is great to add to an already improving and competitive group.”
As the Colorado Rapids add #10 and #11 to their roster, a sense of wonder fills the hearts of all Rapids fans. How will the decisions of the well-respected and insightful coach impact the Rapids’ chances of making it to playoffs? New Rapids’ midfielder Brian Mullan stated it best, “It’s definitely been a whirlwind the last two days. Hard on the family, but in the end, hopefully, it will be story book.”