COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – At the end of every season, young players on struggling clubs get chances to play. But the Colorado Rapids may have a few more baby faces than normal in their lineup in the season’s final two games.
Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja said goalkeeper Matt Pickens (groin) and striker Conor Casey (knee) will be shut down for the rest of the year, and midfielder Brian Mullan (knee) could also join that list. Another midfielder, Jeff Larentowicz, will be carefully watched the rest of the way as well.
But the slew of veteran absences presents opportunities for younger players.
“For me, this is great timing to see the guys that I need to see, like a [defender] Chris Klute, see a [defender] Tyson [Wahl], see how the other guys are developing,” Pareja told MLSsoccer.com before the Rapids took a two-day break on Friday. “It has been a good week to accomplish a lot of things.”
Young strikers Tony Cascio and Andre Akpan, along with Klute and 20-year-old right back Davy Armstrong (above), are in consideration to play in the Rapids’ final two games of the season, Pareja said.
“Davy is pushing, and I’d say over the young group, it may be the guy who is growing fastest,” Pareja said in singling out the Rapids’ first-ever Homegrown player signing. “That’s good. I can see a lot of good things on Davy.”
Goalkeeper Steward Ceus will likely start the final two games in net for Pickens while US U-20 midfielder Shane O’Neill may see minutes if Mullan and/or Larentowicz are forced to sit. Larentowicz missed Friday’s practice (the Rapids had Saturday and Sunday off) as he battled nagging injuries, and Pareja is using the two-week international break to get him needed rest.
“He had a long season. For Jeff, it’s been a lot of minutes, a lot of games,” Pareja said of Larentowicz, who is third on the team in minutes played with 2,603, putting him only behind Pickens and defender Drew Moor. “The thing as well is in training he’s always pushing. So with Jeff, it’s just waiting for him to recover. There is no need to rush him.”
But for Pareja, the advantage of the final few weeks of the season is getting an opportunity to see who may be able to contribute in 2013, and opening the door for players who haven’t had much of a chance the rest of the year.
“On a day like [Friday], for example, we set drills with that intention, to see the young guys, to see some challenges and see the potential,” Pareja said. “That’s good. I like it.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.