by Mike Templeton
It was the best of times it was the worst of times.
Charles Dickens appeared to be fairly prophetic in his description of the Rapids off-season. I’ve been through a roller coaster of emotions before with the Rapids but this off-season has been especially nerve racking with its wild ups and downs. With the Rapids not renewing the contracts of Gary Smith and Steve Guppy, Jeff Plush’s unexpected departure, and now the departure of Mac Kandji, it would be a massive understatement to characterize this as anything less than a tumultuous off-season. The last couple of months were enough to give any fan heart trouble. Maybe it’s a good thing Smiling Moose is no longer available at Dick’s. The hearts’ of many season ticket holders may not have been able to take these events coupled with their ridiculous amount of mayonnaise.
At one point the chaos was so unbelievable it made the Rapids look like a bad episode of the Dream Team. There certainly seemed to be just as many casualties and ridiculous plot twists.
The whole thing made one wonder what in the hell was going on in Rapidland. Was something in the water in Commerce City? Actually, maybe someone should look into that, it is Commerce City after all. The chaos spurned some wild explanations including conspiracy theories being floated around by upset supporters on social media sites. For many observers one would think the FO at the end of the year was like a scene from Road House, with Bravo as Patrick Swayze in some sort of no holds barred barroom brawl until one man was left standing.
I don’t claim to know what happened but I do know that we certainly aren’t the first team to have a chaotic off-season. As Dutch coach Aad de Mos once said, “Two things are certain in life. People die and coaches get sacked.” It is a brutally honest assessment but one that has historically proven true time and time again in football. I know Gary wasn’t “sacked,” his contract wasn’t renewed, but we get the point. I don’t know what went down behind closed doors and that isn’t what this article is about. This is about the emotional rollercoaster that comes with being a football supporter.
Supporters love their team and will react passionately and occasionally irrationally to decisions teams make. That is their nature. This is compounded when one supports their local team, since many of us have personal relationships with the players and coaches. That is one of the beautiful things about supporting your local team but also one of the most difficult. When these players and coaches leave, it is like losing a friend.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the game is the incredible highs one experiences and the passion it invokes in supporters. But the incredible highs are only truly enjoyable once one has experienced the lows. That is part of what makes the game great. Chaotic off-seasons and whirlwind emotions are all part of the game and a price we all must pay for being passionate fans. It is an inherent part of football.
To prove this, I decided to delve into soccer history to try and gauge just how crazy the Rapids off-season has been and to get a little historical context. Turns out it was actually pretty tame by comparison. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples I found to help put our off-season into perspective.
It’s true that we may have had a lot of turnover but it was nothing like what supporters in the Tunisian first division experienced. Esperance Zarzis, a club in southern Tunisia, went through nine coaches, a rate of one per month during the 2002-2003 season. The club president and most of the board were also sacked. Olympique Beja went through seven coaches that season as well. With these clubs and Stade Tunisien, who went through four coaches, the 12 team Tunisian first division went though a total of 33 coaches in one season. That is an incredible fact and makes the Rapids seem like a pillar of stability in comparison.
What is that you say? It wasn’t just the turnover but the abruptness of the departures that was truly disturbing? Well, it certainly wasn’t as abrupt as Fortuna Cologne supporters had to deal with in 1999. Former West German National Team goalkeeper Harald “Toni” Schumacher was fired as a coach of Fortuna Cologne during half-time of the team’s German second-division match against Waldhof Mannheim. I think we can all agree we will have to concede on the most abrupt departure distinction as well. As an aside for soccer nerds, this event wasn’t even Schumacher’s most notable soccer footnote. He is most infamously known for his horror show challenge on Battiston in the 1982 World Cup. His challenge caused Battiston to leave on a stretcher while Schumacher escaped without a booking or even a foul for that matter.
As I watch that play again, I must admit that I don’t feel too much sympathy for his abrupt departure as a coach.
None of this is intended to downplay the emotional rollercoaster the departures of Gary Smith, Steve Guppy, Jeff Plush, Mac Kandji have caused for supporters of the Rapids. It is tough to lose players and go through change. My point is just that this has always has been a part of the game. While my tone my be light considering the circumstances, it is also my personal philosophy as a soccer fan that if you are going to make it through the tough times sometimes you just have to laugh to keep from crying.
As in soccer, as in life.
But enough about the lows of the off-season. Let’s shift our focus and take a look at the highs.
After Jeff Plush’s departure, Tim Hinchey was promoted to club President and immediately supporters began to see some changes. Communication with supporters has increased and improved immensely. Through twitter, the website, and events such as the one at Fado’s where supporters have had the opportunity to meet the coach talk to Paul Bravo and Pablo Mastroeni there appears to be a genuine desire for communication and engagement with supporters. It has all been a refreshing change from years past. In addition, the club has recently announced that season ticket holders will be able to have their names on the 2013 jerseys. This is clearly an acknowledgement of the most passionate fans, as well as a symbolic gesture to show unity. With all of these changes, I will be shocked if we don’t see a significant increase in season ticket sales next year. Clearly, Hinchey appears to be an individual capable of getting things done.
While changes in the front office have been nice, the most important thing is what happens on the pitch. Oscar Pareja was brought in as the new coach and almost immediately the Rapids signed Jaime Castrillon, a fellow Columbian. While I have yet to see Castrillon play, he did score in the preseason game against San Jose and appears to be a very promising player. The team appears to be adjusting to playing a more attacking style of soccer and utilizing the altitude and home field advantage at Dick’s. In addition, injured players such as Conor Casey and Jaime Smith appear to be making good progress and the Rapids are set to announce the signing of a new Argentinean #10 on Monday. All of this bodes extremely well for next season.
At the supporter’s event at Fado’s, I had the opportunity to briefly speak with Paul Bravo and I asked him what the addition of Oscar and Wilmer Cabrera would mean for the academy and what would be the biggest difference we will see. Bravo stated that the biggest difference would be a consistent philosophy in the style of play from the U-11s all the way to the first team. Developing players will be key and while Wilmer will run the show Oscar has already spoken to the academy players. It will be one club.
Of course it is too early to judge and results will be the ultimate test on which success will be based. Many fans are naturally skeptical. They have endured years of talk, dashed expectations and empty promises from the Rapids. I admit that I have been one of the skeptics. But something does feel different this year. With the addition of Hinchey and Oscar, the improved communication, the exciting signings, and the consistent philosophy I feel a real change and am genuinely excited. Maybe this One Club thing is for real. Maybe it is more than a marketing gimmick but a consistent philosophy that will be applied throughout the organization. I, for one, believe that it is.
I can’t predict the future but I know for certain there will be more ups and downs. That is one thing I can guarantee. A life of incredible highs and excruciating lows is what we, as football supporters, are condemned to. But it is our job to support the team through thick and thin, through good times and bad times. Fans must weather the storm and we will because the Pids abide.