Colorado Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja has not hesitated in giving young players an opportunity. And with key pieces unavailable, he looks likely to lean on more youth against the Portland Timbers at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Saturday (4:00 p.m. MT, TICKETS).
In the first four matches Pareja started a pair of 22-year-old rookie draft picks in Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers. He complimented that youth with a defensive foundation based on veteran experience. But after starting the same back four in the first four matches, the foundation has been rattled and will look much different on Saturday.
- Goalkeeper Matt Pickens is out three or four months with a broken arm.
- Pablo Mastroeni is nursing the quad he injured early in the Los Angeles Galaxy game last week and will not play on Saturday.
- Defender Diego Calderon slid into the goalpost while clearing a ball off the line in the Galaxy game, and he'll be out for four to five months.
- Drew Moor was ejected from the Galaxy game and will be out for the next two games (Timbers and Real Salt Lake).
A confident Pareja said after Friday's practice that he has no problem giving the next player in line his chance.
"We have a roster that we put together and weekly we decide on the guys who are looking good for the starting lineup," Pareja explained. "But the other players are always working hard and waiting for that opportunity, opportunities that can come because another player may not be performing well, or due to an injury."
Rookie goalkeeper Clint Irwin, 23, has taken his opportunity and performed well in the absence of Pickens. Chris Klute, 23, came on for Calderon last week - causing a shift throughout the backline - and looked solid at left back. Shane O'Neill, 19, was converted from the midfield to the backline and also made his 2013 debut last week, coming on at center back after Moor's ejection.
It's possible that Klute and O'Neill will get the nod in place of Calderon and Moor in front of Irwin against the Timbers. Veterans Brian Mullan and Marvell Wynne trained fully all week and should also be available, though their versatility gives Pareja options as to where they line up.
“You need to find the right chemistry and balance," Pareja said of the integration of youth and experienced players. "Sometimes you are building one way, and then the game forces you to change. You plan it one way, but the game gives you different challenges that you have to solve.”
Pareja believes in his players - regardless of age or experience - which is why he doesn't intend to stray from his original plan of possession-based, attacking soccer.
"We have the same concepts,” Pareja said of the approach to Portland. “But sometimes you need to tweak the formation here and there because the game forces you to do it. You have consistency with the ideas and principles that we have as a team.”
Shea tried out for the Colorado Rapids in 1995 and, after failing to make a team, wrote a 1,000-word description of his unsuccessful tryout. He then proceeded to cover the Rapids for 15 years for various websites and local media outlets, up to and including the club's MLS championship in 2010. In between, he dared to try out again in 2002 and 2006. Send comments and feedback to Shea at firstname.lastname@example.org.