COMMERCE CITY, Colo.- So far, the Colorado Rapids have passed virtually every test thrown their way.
From an endless list of injuries to delayed transfers and suspensions, Colorado hasn’t necessarily had lady luck on its side for the first two-and-a-half months of the season. But an impressive 3-0-2 run of form in their last five games has the Rapids in the Western Conference’s fifth spot over a third of the way into the season.
But now, the Rapids face perhaps their stiffest challenge so far this year.
Colorado hosts MLS’ top team, FC Dallas, on Saturday night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (7 p.m. MT, with a lot more than three points on the line in suburban Denver.
“Dallas is doing very well this year,” Pareja told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “It’s going to be a big measurement stick for us if we could get a good performance and keep adding confidence to our group.”
The Rapids are looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss in the U.S. Open Cup tournament, suffered on Tuesday at the hands of the Orlando City SC.
"This team has characteristized itself this year with having a stronger mentatlity," Pareja said of being able to overcome that loss. "Nobody likes to lose in any competition, but the players understand that regardless if we win or lose, we can only think of moving forward. They've worked hard the past two days since the game and I see them ready."
Pareja might have to face Dallas without playmaking midfielder Martin Rivero, who suffered a right foot injury late in the first half of Colorado’s 2-0 win over Chivas. However, the second year coach should be able to count on center back Shane O’Neill and holding midfielder Hendry Thomas. O'Neill returns on Saturday after serving a one-game suspension for a red card in a May 18 while Thomas has recovered from a month-long layoff with a hamstring strain.
Colorado also hasn't forgotten the opening match of the season when the Rapids held a 63-37 advantage in possession only to commit a costly error to gift the home side three points on March 2.
"The players always remember games they play in, and they bring it back when they are about to face that opponent again," Pareja said. "They know they played very well in Dallas. Dallas has shown they are a strong team, with a dangerous roster. (But) we've improved a lot defensively (since then). Offensively we're taking steps forward and everyday we're getting closer to the identity and consistency that we want."
All-in-all, Colorado will be close to the unusual position of full strength, just in time for Saturday’s all-important showdown.
"We're heading in a good direction and the guys tomorrow will be going after all three points," Pareja added.
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.