COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — When Oscar Pareja was introduced as the Colorado Rapids’ new head coach in January, not only did a new man arrive to direct traffic from the sidelines, but a new 4-3-3 formation accompanied the new skipper.
Only thing is, seven weeks removed from the opener, that 4-3-3 has quickly dissolved into a 4-4-2.
Omar Cummings and Tony Cascio started up top for the second straight week in Saturday’s 4-0 win over Chivas USA, and after a four-goal second-half onslaught, the Rapids now have five goals in two games with the new formation. And as for the players — Cummings in particular — the switch has been met with open arms.
“Up front it’s easier because you’re making runs off someone,” Cummings told MLSsoccer.com following Saturday’s convincing victory. “You try to combine whenever you can. It works. Each system has their benefits; I guess you just have to make the best of it.”
Cummings looked uncomfortable operating as the point man in the 4-3-3 in the in the season’s first six games, recording just two goals in that span, prompting Pareja to switch to the more traditional 4-4-2 before last Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the LA Galaxy. This Saturday night, the switch reaped its biggest reward as Cascio and Cummings combined for a goal and two assists against Chivas.
“I think the 4-4-2 is more center-oriented and Omar and I are a little closer together,” Cascio said post-game. “That way, we can work with each other. We’re two different players; he likes to make those runs in behind and I can check to and so vice-versa. It works pretty well.”
The tactical shift presented yet another challenge for Cascio, whose 50th minute goal against Chivas came as a result of a composed chesting off a corner kick and a powerful shot to the far post afterwards. Since being drafted 14th overall out of the University of Connecticut in January, the 22-year-old rookie was immediately thrown into the starting lineup, learned the 4-3-3, and now is back in the 4-4-2 as a striker. It's not his natural position, but, the latest — and perhaps most dramatic — change hasn’t appeared to phase him in the slightest.
“It’s a tough transition but I just try and do my best out there,” Cascio said. “I’m not too much of a forward, but Oscar said I’m versatile, so I’ve been up there trying to create chances.”
Despite the initial wave of success surrounding the Rapids’ switch to the 4-4-2, Cummings said the strike force’s work is far from over.
“I think there’s a lot of room for improvement for me personally and as a team,” Cummings said. “We still need to look within.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.