2012 in Review: Q&A with Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja

Ambititious coach takes lesson from first year in charge to keep building in 2013

Over the next three weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.

2012 record: 11-19-4 (37 points); 44 GF / 50 GA (-6 GD)

2012 Colorado Rapids statistics

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Oscar Pareja's first year in charge was a roller-coaster ride, but after the Rapids dipped to an 0-6-0 July, it ended in disappointment for Colorado. With the early loss of captain Pablo Mastroeni to post-concussion symptoms and a lack of depth behind him, the team's holes began to show during a summer swoon that Colorado ultimately couldn't crawl out of.

But the midseason addition of Hendry Thomas along with the development of new additions Martín Rivero and Jaime Castrillón helped give the Rapids an auspicious 3-2-2 finish to the season. This offseason, the team hopes to shore up the backline and add a striker to the mix as they look to return to the postseason after missing it in 2012 for the first time since 2009.

MLSsoccer.com: What was the biggest lesson that you learned from your first year in charge?

Pareja: There are many. Good ones and bad ones, but all of them have been a process that we started a year ago, and a process that we see after the evaluation. The games teach you a lot of stuff. I’d say probably knowing that you’re very optimistic thinking that things can happen right away, or sooner than you one maybe needs. The bigger lesson is that I need to be patient and keep working.

MLSsoccer.com: Heading into a full offseason for the first time, how is what you do over the next few months going to help you heading into next year?

WATCH: 2012 Colorado Rapids recap

Pareja: First, it will help get a couple players that we for sure know we need in the team. We have a little bit of time, not too much, to bring those pieces that are necessary for the philosophy, style, identity that we are preaching here. The offseason gives us time as well to let us know what is coming in the draft. Obviously, set the team the way you want it, bring the people back that you want that fit into it and let the ones go that are maybe going in a different direction. It’s healthy for the club and the players.

MLSsoccer.com: You said that set pieces and lapses in concentration on defense were a big part of the defensive problems, particularly at the beginning of the year. How did you try to address that in the last few weeks?

Pareja: We have been working a lot on our concentration and focusing on anything we do. Our concentration has been a highlight of the topics that we want to work with these guys, and it’s translated to things like set pieces, for example, because set pieces you can control. As a player, it’s where you can have better concentration and do well. We didn’t do well in that part, for sure.

MLSsoccer.com: Matt Pickens provided a lot of veteran leadership in Mastroeni’s absence. Talk about his importance to this team now and moving forward.

Pareja:I think Matt’s leadership keeps growing on the team, which is important. He brings solidness in the back, his experience as well, the security to the team. He understands and the team understands that we’re all about how important he is to the squad right now. But he also understands there are many areas that we need to keep getting better.

WATCH: Pablo Mastroeni talks 2013 return

MLSsoccer.com: Youth development is a key for you. How much did that progress over the past year and what steps are you looking to take for that to develop now and further down the road?

Pareja: I think that one of the really positive things that came out this year was the progression of our younger guys. Dillon [Serna, an academy player] is with the US Under-20s, Shane [O’Neill] is doing U-20 stuff as well. Davy [Armstrong] progressed fantastically this year as well, I really think Davy could be a player with a legitimate chance to play. We got a player from the draft [Tony Cascio] who played more than 20 games. The academy is getting experience. I think in the youth aspect, the club is doing well. I’m happy with it.

MLSsoccer.com: Will we see the 4-3-3 in 2013?

Pareja: I hope so. We’re working on getting the right players who are trying to adjust to the identity that we have. It’s in my being to have a team that has an attacking identity, with strikers on the outside, and the 4-3-3 allows me to do so. But one of the lessons I learned this year is you have to have the players who like the idea, and not just hoping. For that, we had to adjust during the year to the formation. I hope we can have consistency in the lineup, but in order to have the consistency we have to have the players.