Colorado's home-field disadvantage

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! SportsAugust 29, 2007

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Dick's Sporting Goods Park, home of the Colorado Rapids, is a thousand miles from the nearest stretch of coastline. The average winter temperature is 33 degrees. Red carpet movie premieres are pretty scarce in this part of the country.

Those three facts form a fair part of the reason why Major League Soccer's designated player rule means something entirely different for Rapids general manager Jeff Plush than to his counterparts in Los Angeles and New York.

When Plush writes down which overseas imports he can target to try to turn his club into title contenders, he can cross out many names before he even gets properly started. For plenty of European-based superstars who could be tempted to follow David Beckham to the United States, Denver doesn't fit their picture of an ideal American adventure.

"We have our selling points and we also have things that some people might see as a downside," Plush admitted. "Denver is not Los Angeles – that is why those of us who live here love it.

"But we are no good to someone who is going to be attracted to that glitzier scene and the flashbulbs and Hollywood. They are not going to come to Denver and that is OK. If they are averse to cold weather, they are going to have a problem living here. It is all part of the process of trying to find the right (player)."

Plush is a realist. He knows there will be certain players who will be beyond his reach.

Barcelona's phenomenal French striker Thierry Henry is a candidate to finish his career in MLS. He loves America, especially New York, and is close friends with San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker. However, Henry feels most comfortable in the spotlight of a big market, so chances are he wouldn't end up in Colorado – or Kansas City or Columbus or Salt Lake City, for that matter.

Sure, a big-name player could be persuaded to move to the Rapids or one of MLS' other small-market teams if the money was right, but Plush doesn't necessarily want that type, either.

"I would never bring in someone just because they were a great name," Plush said. "We don't need notoriety just to get someone in here who is going to be a problem off the pitch. We will take our time.

"(When) you talk about this kind of a player and the amount of money we would be spending outside of a salary cap, you have to get the right one who will fit in and not turn everything upside down."

Plush has spent time in England and is a close follower of the European game, both the high-class soccer on the field and the intricate financial maneuverings that take place away from it. He is well aware of the kind of financial meltdown that has befallen the likes of Leeds United, a club that was a Champions League semifinalist in 2001 but is now plying its trade in the third tier of the English league following bankruptcy caused by paying inflated transfer fees and wages.

So if city-loving superstars, unmotivated money-grabbers and sun-worshippers are out of the question, what sort of player can Colorado bring in to boost coach Fernando Clavijo's squad?

A firm believer that one man cannot make a team, Plush is likely to target a solid, dependable European player who probably isn’t a household name in this country but could make an instant impact.

Yet while Colorado may not boast the bright lights of the Big Apple or the beaches of California, Plush says the Rapids have one potential secret weapon – one which could also dictate the nationality of a future signing.

Vail is about a 90-minute drive from Denver, Aspen around twice as far. Such skiing destinations probably won't be attractive to South Americans, Brits and Portuguese, but they would be to French and Italians.

"You are probably looking for someone who has spent time in this kind of environment," Plush said. "A lot of the French and Italian players are used to cold weather climates and love skiing – they know Denver and the mountains and Vail and all that. That is the kind of thing that would give us an advantage, of course not with everyone, but with certain players it would be an attraction."

One Brit who decided Denver was the place for him, skiing or not, is Terry Cooke. Cooke is a former Manchester United winger who lived with Beckham when they were trainees at Old Trafford.

"I just like it because it's different here," Cooke said. "In England, football can get very political but here I can just get on with things. I couldn't be happier in this part of the world and I see myself staying once my playing career is over."