COMMERCE CITY, Colo.- Heading into 2013, Atiba Harris and Nathan Sturgis had accumulated only 23 starts between them in 2011 and 2012. The two midfielders were mostly bench players, playing bit roles before their respective acquisitions in separate trades by the Colorado Rapids last offseason.
However, both the 26-year-old Sturgis, playing for his fourth team in as many seasons, and the 28-year-old Harris, who battled injuries in two seasons in Vancouver, have been key cogs for the surging Rapids, who are 6-1-4 over their last 10 games heading into Saturday night’s important showdown against FC Dallas at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (7:00 p.m. MT, TICKETS).
So what is it about Colorado – and perhaps Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja in particular – that’s allowed two veteran journeymen to thrive at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park? For Sturgis, the answer is simple.
“I got an opportunity to play, which is a big factor [to my successful season],” Sturgis told MLSsoccer.com this week. “Oscar has given me an opportunity to play and that’s all you really want as a player is to get that chance. Fortunately, he had confidence to put me out there.”
If anything has been learned in Pareja’s first 18 months as the man in charge in Commerce City, it’s that he’s willing to play anyone at anytime. From inserting then-19-year-old Shane O’Neill into the starting center back spot during the spring to picking previously unknown Clint Irwin over established veteran Matt Pickens this summer to rolling the dice on Harris and Sturgis all season, Pareja has made it clear that he prefers player over pedigree.
“Both of them have been very valuable,” Pareja said of Harris and Sturgis. “I’m glad for them to see them have consistency this season and I know they feel themselves that they’re really part of this project, and that’s good.”
Sturgis in particular has stepped into the midfield void vacated by Pablo Mastroeni’s June departure, starting 18 straight matches and contributing four goals and an assist over that time. Harris, meanwhile, is tied for second on the club with five goals while playing in 25 of 28 league games (starting 21) this season. It’s been a win-win situation for both, with Harris and Sturgis grateful for the opportunity and Pareja and the Rapids thankful for both players’ production this season.
“I kind of love it here,” Harris told MLSsoccer.com this week. “I think [my success] has a lot to do with being older with more experience and having a coaching staff believing in us, and once you have somebody believe in you, you’re going to fight even harder for them.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.