Unique adjustment: Rapids sealed win over Dallas with five defenders
Oscar Pareja has made formation tweaks in nearly every game this season. But what he did on Saturday to close out the Rapids win over FC Dallas was something he had never done as a coach - not at practice, let alone in a match.
Up 2-1 with 10 minutes to play, Pareja added a fifth defender to deal with Dallas' crosses to their big men.
While Colorado was able to hold on, it wasn't a smooth adjustment early on - understandably so.
"We never played with a line of five in the back, that's why they got confused," Pareja said after the match. "When I sent the message to play with five, they were thinking 'what are we going to do with five."
Pareja said the initial plan was to use the final substitution to remove either Atiba Harris or Vicente Sanchez, have Mera join Drew Moor at center back and move Shane O'Neill into the holding midfield role that was vacated when Hendry Thomas was replaced by forward Gabriel Torres earlier in the game.
However just as Mera walked with the fourth official to the sideline to come on, midfielder Nathan Sturgis felt a pull in his right hamstring and fell to the ground. Seeing this, Pareja quickly pulled Mera back and a new substitution card was filled out. A minute later, Mera came on for Sturgis, ran to the backline and tried to explain the coach's new instructions to Moor and O'Neill.
From afar it didn't seem that the message was clear. All three defenders were pointing to different parts of the field until O'Neill ran to the sideline and Pareja raised his hand to indicate 'five'.
"They were so good in the air that I think we needed a guy like [German] Mera on the field," O'Neill said afterwards. "They were coming at us so hard that I think it was a good thing to do. But at the same time we had never worked on five in the back, either, so we had to adjust to that really quickly and just get the ball out."
With Chris Klute at left back and Marvell Wynne on the right side, Mera, Moor, and O'Neill clogged the middle of the defense to deal with crosses sent in to Kenny Cooper, Blas Perez, Matt Hedges, and George John - who are all 6'3" or taller.
"They quickly understood the message and they knew that the next five minutes was going to be just balls that they needed to defend in the air," Pareja said. "I wanted to make everyone stronger, extend the back four into five and give up a little bit in the middle, but be stronger in the air."
This move was as clear a sign of how far Pareja has come in his second year as coach.
"It was (something different), because they know I don't like to get pushed on our heels," Pareja said. "But we're growing, and I'm growing, too."