CARSON, Calif. – Oscar Pareja’s 4-3-3 formation is the talk of camp so far with the Colorado Rapids. The FC Dallas legend has brought a new ethic – one of possession and pressure – to a team that had climbed the summit in 2010 on the back of a more traditional 4-4-2 lineup.
After a fast-paced, often hectic 1-0 win over Chivas USA on Tuesday at the Home Depot Center, the Rapids head coach wore a small smile. What he put out against the Rojiblancos wasn’t the finished product, but it was a step in the right direction.
“It was a great effort – the players did outstanding with what we are trying to do,” Pareja told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “We are trying to get that instinct for the team to get the ball back quick – if we don’t have the ball I want them to feel uncomfortable. If we don’t have it, we need it.”
While Quincy Amarikwa was the goal scorer – he got onto the end of a Steven Emory cross after Emory had forced a midfield turnover from Blair Gavin – for much of the game it was defensive midfielder Jeff Larentowicz who made the formation click for long stretches of the game.
Larentowicz is more or less to tailor made to play the “pivot” role at the back point of the three-man midfield. It’s a spot that requires discipline and composure on both sides of the ball, as well as the vision and confidence to play short, long and all distances in between.
That’s been Larentowicz’s forte in the league since day one.
“Jeff has proven year after year that it’s a position that’s made for his game – he’s a good distributor of the ball and he breaks up plays,” said midfield compatriot Pablo Mastroeni, who’s finding himself pushing higher into attack than ever before. “In that position it’s critical – yes, you want free-flowing soccer, but you’ve got to have a strong center of the field, a strong core.”
It’s not surprising that Mastroeni would heap praise on his teammate, just as it won’t be surprising if Colorado make a somewhat quicker transition to the 4-3-3 than Toronto FC and Sporting Kansas City did in 2011. Both those squads struggled until they found their pivot – Torsten Frings and Júlio César, respectively – midway through the year.
With Larentowicz in the fold, it looks like the Rapids could avoid some of the structural growing pains that plagued the teams across the aisle in the Eastern Conference.
“I’ve seen [the 4-3-3] work with Dallas and I know Oscar was a big part of that, and it’s exciting,” Larentowicz explained on Monday night. “It’s going to incorporate a lot of new faces in new places, which we understand will take a little time, but we’re enjoying it.”
Larentowicz was joined in the midfield by on Tuesday Mastroeni and Jaime Castrillón, a Colombian import who looks to be a crucial addition to the Rapids this year with his athleticism and comfort on the ball.
Two fellow Colombians, left back Luis Zapata and left winger Jefferson Angulo, played 67 and 72 minutes, respectively, against Chivas USA.
Supplemental Draft pick Kohei Yamada joined the team on Tuesday, but didn't dress.