Colorado Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja has a good problem on his hands this week as his team prepares to face the Columbus Crew in Ohio on Saturday (5:30 p.m. MT, Altitude TV). The second-year coach has more healthy players available to choose from then he's had in a quite a few weeks.
Over the past week, Pablo Mastroeni, Martin Rivero, Deshorn Brown, Edson Buddle, and Kevin Harbottle - who have all missed mutiple games with injuries - all played significant minutes in either a regular season or reserve match, or both. Rivero, Harbottle, and Brown played 90 in Tuesday's Reserve game against Vancouver, while Mastroeni and Buddle each played at least 60.
However Pareja said it is not a given that any of the returning players will step right back into the starting lineup Saturday against the Crew, especially since the team has only lost once in the last six matches.
"We are very happy to have these guys back with the group," Pareja told ColoradoRapids.com before departing for Columbus. "We want them to get well physically, and they know that they have to win their positions back again."
Pareja says that players who have filled in have shown that they should be considered for positions regardless of who is available.
"The best thing that can happen to a team is competition all the time for all positions," Pareja said. "When you have a player that won't come off the field even if he plays bad, it's difficult. The guys returning know they need to be physically, mentally, and soccer-wise in a state where they can contribute to the team. Sometimes we think just because they are healthy, they are back in."
The match in Columbus is the only league meeting of the season between the two clubs. The Rapids are 17-11-8 all-time against the Crew, including 6-8-4 in Columbus. Colorado's last win at Crew Stadium was on June 26, 2004.