COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The Supporters’ Terrace at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Saturday afternoon served as a fitting microcosm for the team the Colorado Rapids have become following a busy offseason.
Fans packed the section with Colombian flags fluttering in gusty winds, and the Rapids cruised to an entertaining 2-0 First Kick victory against the Columbus Crew. The Terrace let out a special cheer every time newcomers Jaime Castrillón and Luis Zapata touched the ball, and the Colombian duo rewarded their supporters with several nifty touches and increasing comfort as the game wore on.
HIGHLIGHTS: Rapids 2, Crew 0
Starting from the sidelines, South American flair was proudly on display for the Rapids on Saturday, as new head coach Oscar Pareja called the shots in his first game in charge since being named head coach in January.
And, of course, that extended to the field itself, where Castrillón and Zapata became the first South American-born starters not named Pablo Mastroeni for the Rapids since 2008, thriving in the 4-3-3 attack-minded formation that showcases the skill South American players traditionally bring wherever they go.
“It’s good because these guys are unafraid to be on the ball,” midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said of the Colombian duo. “Now, we can keep the ball on the ground and use the talent that these guys have.”
Castrillón and Zapata grew more involved as the game wore on, but Pareja said that although he was generally pleased with the debuts of his countrymen, there’s plenty of room for development for both.
“Jamie and Luis will be growing with the games," the first-year head coach said. "Obviously, after a result like this, we are happy … and you want to highlight all the good things. [But] they know that I will demand more on the field because I know they can do more.”
In the 61st minute of Saturday’s opener, the South American threat came into full display when Zapata single-handedly zigzagged his way past two defenders along the left wing and crossed it to Castrillón, who narrowly missed the corner of the net with a header across goal. The scoresheet may not have reflected Castrillón and Zapata’s contributions, but their teammates took notice. In particular, one aspect of their games stood out to Larentowicz.
“Since they’ve gotten here, they’ve really been comfortable,” Larentowicz said. “One thing that this league demands is physicality and both of them have that.”
While the new South American flair made an obvious impression on the field, the extra support from the 14,743 fans on hand made it clear Rapids fans are into the new look. It didn’t fall onto deaf ears, either.
“I had the chance to see many Colombian flags, and they made me very happy that the fans are supporting us,” Zapata told MLSsoccer.com. “It gives us confidence on the field and we ended up winning, so everything was good.”