Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Decisions Looming for Colorado

Article by Anders Aarhus

It would be an understatement to say it’s been a good year for the Colorado Rapids. Oscar Pareja’s team is currently tied for second in the Western Conference and looks like a good bet to make the playoffs after finishing seventh a year ago. It’s a serious testament to the Columbian that despite the huge roster turnover and injuries to multiple key players, the Rapids are just a point shy of equaling last season’s total of 37 with nine games still to play.

But heading into the MLS stretch run, the games are about to get tougher and so are the lineup decisions. Two key signings and players retuning from injury means plenty of selection headaches.

Let’s start with the splashy new signings: forwards Gabriel Torres and Vicente Sanchez. Torres is coming off a 32-goal campaign for Venezuela’s Zamora FC and a golden boot performance at the Gold Cup while Sanchez brings international experience and an impressive goal-scoring record. Colorado has played pretty, possession soccer this year, but has struggled to finish the abundance of chances the style has created. Torres and Sanchez will be expected to address that lack of production immediately, which means someone is moving to the bench.

Explosive rookie DeShorn Brown leads the team with six goals, but has put just 23 of his 75 shots on target. His effort and talent aren’t in question, but he has yet to show a killer instinct in front of goal. Edson Buddle has struggled to stay healthy while tallying just two goals in 16 games and Atiba Harris’ track record suggests his career year won’t last. Trading for Danny Mwanga implies the Rapids see something they like, but he’s played mostly as a substitute. As for Kamani Hill – is Pareja still aware he’s on the team? It won’t be difficult to justify benching Buddle and Harris, especially considering the latter is still nursing a quad injury, but dropping Brown is tough.

The rookie continually finds himself in good spots and with a better finishing touch he’d easily have double digit goals by now. Consistent playing time has done wonders for the Jamaican’s development and he seems to be on the verge of breaking out. With Gabriel Torres set for the most of the minutes up top, Brown’s best chance of seeing the field is probably as one of the wide forwards. A front three of Brown – Torres – Sanchez looks likely.

While the forward core is getting a much-needed upgrade, the Colorado midfield that has been one of the best in MLS is set to get even better. Playmaker Martin Rivero is finally getting healthy after battling injuries for most of the season and played an effective 28 minutes against Chivas USA Sunday night. Rivero is too talented to keep out of the lineup, but understudy Dillon Powers has had a masterful campaign so far. The natural move would be for Powers, thought to be a more of a holding-midfielder coming out of college, to move deeper and partner Henry Thomas. 

However, that forces Nathan Sturgis to the bench. Sturgis has formed a solid partnership with Thomas as part of a double pivot and while Powers brings more to the table offensively, he won’t have the same understanding with Thomas right away. Jamie Castrillon also figures into the mix. His nose for goal (he was the Rapids leading scorer last season) means he probably spells Rivero at attacking mid or one of the outside forwards, but he was also effective in a deeper role last season. 

The combination of Rivero’s talent and Powers’ form means Sturgis is probably the odd man out, but with Thomas’ penchant for picking up cards and suspensions Pareja can rest easy with a proven replacement on the bench.

Pareja has earned his money so far, but the lineup decisions will test his ability as a manager. Too many changes could destroy the good chemistry. But integrating the new players smartly will put the Rapids in great position going into the playoffs. This is the most talented Rapids team in the last few years and certainly of Pareja’s short time at the club. It’s now up to him to get the best out of it.

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