Despite the springtime loss of goalkeeper Matt Pickens and the long wait for other players to mend, Colorado head coach Oscar Pareja can deploy new attacking players against the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center on Saturday night.
The starting lineup might look about the same as the first three games, but Pareja’s new substitution schemes - particularly in attack - may be different.
“Danny [Mwanga] has been the good news this week,” Pareja said after practice on Thursday. “He had a very good two weeks of training. I think he’s another young guy that can help.”
Mwanga adds pure striker skills, as well as offensive mobility that can help Pareja's fluid attack.
Pareja’s attacking philosophy hinges on skill, creativity, and versatility. Gone are the days of former Rapids forward Adrian Paz collecting the ball, dribbling down the right wing, and crossing it, perhaps a dozen times per game with defenders surprisingly unsuccessful stopping this one-trick pony. At that time, the Paz Pony was the de facto Rapids’ attack. Pareja’s approach today is the polar opposite. Each player needs a full toolbelt and the soccer sense to choose the right tools.
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Pareja feels confident about his defensive foundation, especially with the return of midfielder Pablo Mastroeni from a hamstring injury that sidelined him the last two matches. With a solid block in the middle, he can tinker with the four remaining spots up front.
“We can convert to two forwards,” Pareja explained. “But at the moment, our shape is 4-2-3-1, and that one sitting behind the forward can be converted to a forward or just keep him as a link.”
Pareja’s possible alignment - based on how the team started the first two matches with Mastroeni - sees Dillon Powers as the link, Atiba Harris on the right flank, Kevin Harbottle on the left, and Deshorn Brown in the middle. Though Tony Cascio, who started last week, also enters into the equation. So does Mwanga, who scored excellent goals in training and showing solid fitness, giving Pareja an option to pair with Brown atop a 4-4-2.
Add to the mix an emerging Edson Buddle, who has been steadily increasing his fitness and entering more combat during training sessions. However he’s still working through different injuries and was limited by a groin issue on Wednesday. He did train on Thursday, casting uncertainty about his seat on the bench or the plane.
Pareja still believes that success will come with sharper execution in the box and a sustained approach to a varied, possessive attack. But he was quick to note his biggest concerns with the Galaxy.
“I think we need to control Juninho and [Marcelo] Sarvas,” Pareja said. “They are very active in the middle. Other than that, our team needs to keep pushing for a good performance, defend better, be more solid, take the options, and put the game away.”
Saturday's match will be show on Altitude TV at 8:30 p.m. MT, or in progress at the conclusion of the Colorado Avalanche game if it runs long.
Shea tried out for the Colorado Rapids in 1995 and, after failing to make a team, wrote a 1,000-word description of his unsuccessful tryout. He then proceeded to cover the Rapids for 15 years for various websites and local media outlets, up to and including the club's MLS championship in 2010. In between, he dared to try out again in 2002 and 2006. Send comments and feedback to Shea at email@example.com.