Ever wondered what goes into keeping the Colorado Rapids running in support of the 18 players and handful of coaches on the pitch at match day? It’s nothing short of a minor miracle: a textbook case of being organized, plus a lot of multi-tasking on the fly by many behind-the-scenes personnel within Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
James Roeling is one such person whom fans don’t necessarily recognize as one of the “Burgundy Boys”, but is vital to keeping the Rapids machine rolling throughout the year both at home and on the road. James is the Manager of Team Operations for Colorado. His title doesn’t begin to do justice to all that he has to pay attention to on a daily basis, but suffice to say, he is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to the administrative side of the team.
In the summer of 2013 this recent graduate of LSU, who happened to be passionate about the game of soccer, came to Colorado looking to find his place in the world. “I wanted to move out West and try something new after college,” said Roeling looking back. “I’m from Louisiana and it just came out of nowhere. I found places to stay, lived in basements when I first moved out here, and got here in the beginning of June.”
His road to the Rapids started in much the same haphazard way-making it up as he went along. “I came to the July 4th game (against NYRB), because I’m an Arsenal fan and wanted to watch Thierry Henry. After that, I thought maybe I should reach out and see if anything is open. I wasn’t even looking for a job because I knew I didn’t have any experience so I emailed the Marketing Coordinator and asked ‘when you look at resumes what sets people apart?’ They responded that they had a position available entry-level. At that point, I had no idea what the job was at all.”
James began as a member of the Rapids Street Team-a group of young, entry-level staffers who primarily were out at community events on behalf of the Rapids to raise awareness and advertise the club. It certainly wasn’t Roeling’s end target as far as a career goes, but he knew you have to start somewhere and he was going to see where it took him. “I had to do extra jobs while I did that but it was pretty much on-call. I’d set my alarm for 8AM every day and hope I’d get the call to come in. If I didn’t, I’d go do some other jobs-general contracting stuff. It was decent pay and when the Rapids called I’d go over and do that.”
One thing which has served Roeling well with the Rapids is his desire to be part of the game he loved. “Soccer is one of those things that’s been my number one passion. Knowing that I’ve always had that passion I knew it was something I could work in because I’d always have that drive.”
James took advantage of every opportunity presented to him in order to work with others, show his versatility, and prove his willingness to do whatever was necessary within the club to succeed. “When (Sporting Director) Padraig (Smith) came in he needed someone to help him out with things, whether it was compiling data for him, it was very rudimentary and kind of a when you have time kind of deal. The good thing about that was it got me in the office more so I didn’t have to do as many events”, he said with a laugh.
“The whole thing is getting your face known by all those people around you,” he offers as advice to others looking to get into and advance in an organization. “I got to know Wayne (Brandt-Interim Business Manager) and got super-tight with him, Padraig, and everyone else around. It was more comfortable so whenever (previous Director of Communications) Richard Clark came in and they were building up the media group they needed more bodies.”
Roeling’s next step was to be involved on the in-house media group producing content internally, gathering interviews with players and personnel, and getting the Rapids message out via the club’s voice. “Me just kind of being there naturally fell into that spot. I knew that I needed a full-time gig and it’s a bigger foot in the door. I’ve always loved writing so I said I’ll write some articles, help with the website, so I was kind of the utility guy.”
“I’ve been in three different worlds-the Marketing thing so you’re outside and seeing how people perceive the team, and then you go to the Media so you control the message and sending it outside to the outlets. I enjoyed that because you see a completely different side.”
Which brings us to James’ current role with the Rapids. He will tell you there are a myriad of responsibilities, so many in fact that it’s very difficult to narrow things down to a true job-description. However, Roeling jumped at the chance to step into the Administration role left by long-time team member Erik Carlson.
“(the Front Office) said we want you to fill the role-you know what the Rapids are about, you know everybody across the departments, the only thing you’re going to have to get to know quickly is the team. The guys knew me, might not have known my name, but I tried to be a fly on the wall. I came in in December and it was like thrown into the fire and Go!-they told me on a Friday and I left for LA on a Tuesday to go for some site visits for pre-season spots.”
“When it started it was preseason planning,” Roeling recalls for The Voice of C38. “Erik was still here guiding me. I wouldn’t have been able to do it had he not been here. There’s just so much acquired knowledge that I just sat in and took notes.”
“He would give me smaller tasks like putting the room list together and send it to the hotel. The minute details of who’s rooming with whom, who’s a good pair, you want guys to get to know each other. Being my first year I told them, ‘guys it’s going to be a long season but you’ve got to be patient with me’ because one of the things I’ve proven is that I’m going to make mistakes but I’m going to learn from them.”
Most things James worries about are primarily thinking ahead so as to fend off any “what if?” scenarios or adapting to plans the different coaches lay out. “Each Head Coach is different. They have their own idea, whether they want to train early in the morning and travel that afternoon, or they want to travel in the morning and train in the market that day. You sit down with them and figure out times.”
“The small things over the course of the season matter down to the meals you eat. Or, this airport has great contacts and it doesn’t take long to get through. I don’t want the guys sitting there for 2 hours not doing anything so we can leave a little later and let them get some extra sleep. The second the schedule comes out we go to our travel agents, sit down with Head Coaches and backroom staff and have a conference call. The beginning of the season we schedule all the flights, the bus dates are blocked off, hotel dates are blocked off, it’s just a matter of fine-tuning the details. With meals we work with Miguel,
the Strength Coach and get all that figured out, Coaches with the timing of the meals, Brandy Lay if we have hotel gym or pool activation and see what kind of gear they need to pack.”
“My homework over Christmas break was to study the CBA because you’re going to get so many questions about this. You’ve got to know the player’s union side of it, you have to know what we can and can’t do in a given week-how many days you can train and need a day off, per diem amounts, what times they need meals when they train-so many different details.”
You get the picture-If you can think of it going haywire, chances are James has too and has a contingency plan for it. A big part of that is his desire to always prove he can solve anything placed in front of him eventually. “I enjoy challenges and I like being able to prove myself. Every year I’ve been with the Rapids I’ve done something different.”
Another part of his job Roeling enjoys is getting to know and work with the players on a daily basis. “I’m the first face they see when they come in the locker room and the last before they leave. I try to impress a certain mentality.” His office is placed directly inside the locker room double doors entrance and plays a part in his mentality. “If I’m super-stressed when they come in that’s not a good look and it kind of rubs off. I let them focus on playing the game and I’ll handle everything else so they don’t have any headaches about it.”
James takes great pride in being the “go-to” for their issues, requests, or questions no matter how great or small. “Probably my biggest fault is not being able to say no,” he openly admits. “If you come in and ask me something that I don’t know, I’m not going to say no but I’m going to find out how to do it. I don’t want them to hesitate coming to me.”
“As far as Match Day, I’ll get in around 10 or 11 and work on the next trip. Guys will come in and get their ticket requests settled. I don’t want Tim Howard getting a text saying, ‘the tickets aren’t at will-call’ and he’s coming to me to make sure his people are sorted and not focusing on the game. It’s really just about putting everybody in the best position to succeed on the field is ultimately what I’m here for.”
“I look at my schedule as a perpetual state of planning. A normal travel week, 2 weeks before I’ve already reached out to the clubs, I’ve already gotten the flight list, I’ve already sent the rooming list to the hotel, requests need to be in as early as possible.”
Unlike the competitiveness of the clubs on the pitch, James tells us his behind-the-scenes counterparts tend to be more of a single team of people based in different cities. “We always have meetings with all the Admins at the beginning of the year to look back and say, ‘the bus company in this city wasn’t up to par’ so that’s one of the good things is that there are some people at the League whose main job is club travel. They are a massive help. I’ll get off the plane and I’ll get a text from them, the bus company is waiting, they’re tracking your flights. Our first flight of the season to Newark was a 2.5 hour delay. Before I even reached out, they texted saying this is what’s happening, keep us posted.”
“The networks of Admins is awesome. (visiting teams) will reach out a week before. I’ll create a packet on visiting Denver and all the stuff they’ll need for their trip and bring it to the hotel when they arrive. Whenever I go to Salt Lake I know I’ll be taken care of so I make sure I take care of him. I’ll reach out and see how they handle situations and they’ll say usually say we do this, this, that to try and get a best-practices.”
The teamwork necessary to run MLS teams is just that-a collective best practices shared by most clubs. James will leave the competitive streak to the players in burgundy or gold come match day. Until then, you will probably find him on his office computer or phone planning for the next scenario in 2018 or seeking a quiet moment to watch the team he is so passionate about