Team defense the focus against potent DC attack

Rapids have surrendered 11 goals in five losses, one in five wins

Oscar Pareja watching from the bench

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When the Colorado Rapids head to the nation’s capital for a midweek clash against D.C. United on Wednesday night (5:30 pm ET, Altitude TV), they will hope to string together back-to-back road wins for the first time all season.

It’s been a season of highs and lows for the 5-5-0 Rapids, but after their first prolonged break of the season following their 2-0 win over FC Dallas on May 6 — the Rapids had a 10-day break in the schedule — they will be a rested club that has had the opportunity to hammer out odds and ends, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

“We’re reinforcing our defensive work [this week],” Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja said last week in regard to his inconsistent defense, which has allowed 11 goals in five losses and just one in their five wins. “We have to defend better. Technically, we’re going to make sure we’re all on the same page and push certain players who need to be better.”

Injuries have taken a toll on Pareja’s side, as they’ll be without three regular starters at RFK Stadium. Veteran striker Omar Cummings and center back Marvell Wynne are both out approximately another four weeks, and veteran Pablo Mastroeni is only just starting to begin light workouts following his extended absence for headaches.

Couple the injuries with a big home clash looming on Saturday against Sporting Kansas City, and Pareja may be juggling his lineup.

According to the team, Kamani Hill is listed as the Rapids’ starting striker alongside Tony Cascio for Wednesday's game, though Conor Casey is close to making his full return after two substitute appearances in the Rapids’ last three games, including a 45-minute outing against Dallas. Casey may be in line to start either Wednesday or Saturday against Kansas City after he reported feeling “really good” during his second half appearance.

Also, Rapids new midfield signing Edu made the trip to D.C. and may be set for his first minutes in burgundy, as may fellow newcomer Harrison Henao, both of whom have been training with the team for several weeks and could be surprise inclusions against United.

But despite the potential shuffling in the attack, the Rapids’ primary focus will be on stopping Chris Pontius, Maicon Santos and Dwayne De Rosario, who have linked up to lead a dangerous United offense that has netted 12 goals in their last five games. If the Rapids can stifle the United frontline and overcome the bevy of injuries that have hit the squad of late, three critical road points could be headed Colorado’s way.

“The season ebbs and flows,” Casey noted. “It’s been a challenge to integrate a lot of guys in the new [attack] with the movements, but everyday we’re trying to improve. We still have a lot of work to do.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.