Holes in midfield lead to disaster on scoreboard for Rapids

Wells Thompson of the Colorado Rapids

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Colorado Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja knew losing veterans Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz was going to hurt. But maybe he didn’t know that their absences would be tangible quite so quickly in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to New York at Red Bull Arena.

It took all of about 90 seconds Colorado to feel the dual absences as Ross LaBauex, filling in for Mastroeni, delivered a horrific back pass straight into the receptive feet of Thierry Henry, who easily fired home for a 1-0 Red Bulls lead.

OPTA CHALKBOARD: Rapids midfield overrun

“[Jeff and Pablo] obviously bring experience and know what they’re doing,” Pareja told MLSsoccer.com postgame on Sunday. “New York tried to put us on our heels and it’s easier to do when you have players of that experience. It’s normal to have to adjust to it, but we didn’t adjust well.”

With Martín Rivero once again unavailable in the midfield with his International Transfer Request form still not completed, Pareja had slim pickings to choose from. He chose to start Wells Thompson and LaBauex.

Not five minutes after the first goal, Henry dropped into midfield, wasn’t picked up and had all the time in the world to slice a perfect through ball to Kenny Cooper. Cooper masterfully slotted home to hand New York a 2-0 advantage just seven minutes into the contest.

It’s impossible to say for sure, but had Mastroeni or Larentowicz been on the field, both first half goals may not have been scored.

“It’s always a challenge not having players of that caliber, and even not having Martín,” Pareja said. “It was not easy to overcome those moments today, despite that I thought the boys battled.”

It wasn’t necessarily just on the defensive side of the ball where Colorado misssed Mastroeni and Larentowicz, who are amongst the better defensive midfield enforcers in the league. Even as the Rapids started to plant a foot into the match in the middle and later portions of the first half, the Rapids looked hesitant at times to fire on goal (six total shots), and shooting was something Larentowicz in particular had no issue doing just a year after scoring a career-high seven goals.

“I think we generated some dangerous plays but we couldn’t finish it up well,” Pareja said. “Part of the reason was because we didn’t take a shot and we kept looking for the perfect pass.”

Pareja and Colorado will certainly welcome Larentowicz’s return on Sunday as they battle the Fire at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, and will hope a fully fit Mastroeni can join him.

HIGHLIGHTS: NY vs COL