Commerce City, Colo. - Since joining the Rapids from Toronto last year, Joseph Nane always knew it would be a challenge unseating incumbent All-Star holding midfielders Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz from the lineup. However, he did not expect it would take so long to get his opportunity if one was unavailable.
"Had you told me last year that Pablo would not play there this season, and I would wait until late in the year to get a minute, I would have not believed it," the Cameroonian told ColoradoRapids.com on Wednesday. "But I had to stay professional and practice hard every day, and wait for my turn."
Mastroeni and Larentowicz had started nearly every game together in the center of the field the past two seasons. But when Mastroeni was forced out with an injury after two games, the coaching staff did not replace the veteran with another defensive-minded midfielder. Instead, Larentowicz was tasked to defend the middle, most often paired with offensive-minded Jaime Castrillon.
On the offensive end, things worked. Castrillon is tied for the team lead with five goals, including three game-winners. However with the recent string of defensive miscues, the staff has decided to look at options to support Larentowicz, as well as the center backs.
With Larentowicz serving a one-game suspension, Nane made his first start of the season on July 21 at Real Salt Lake alongside Wells Thompson. Nane then started the next two matches - against Swansea City and Seattle - next to Larentowicz.
"Joe (Nane) brings a lot to the game," Larentowicz said. "He's a physical presence; he can close ground down and close down attackers. We're familiar with each other and know each other's tendencies, so we can help each other out."
"I think this brings more stability defensively, because we're two defensive-minded players," added the 25-year-old Nane. "In order to win the game you have to be able to have a clean sheet. That's what we're trying to do, and the goals eventually are going to come.”
Larentowicz, who led the team with seven goals in 2011, says the pairing also allows him more chances to get involved offensively.
"It's a relationship that I've had with Pablo in the past and we just knew if one was stepping forward or going to attack that the other would have their back," he said. "Before it was just me (staying back), so my role going forward was limited, but with Joe there I know that I can go forward and he can do the same."
Nane understands that the coaching staff has other defensive midfielder options, including Wells Thompson and rookie Shane O’Neill. But that doesn’t bother him.
“I don't feel any extra pressure, I feel like I have to stay solid and positive,” he said. “We just have to stay positive and I know that if we stop with the little mistakes we'll eventually get a win.”