As Larentowicz returns, Rapids eye quick start against Fire

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — It took all of seven minutes for the Colorado Rapids to fall into a sinkhole that they couldn’t climb out of last weekend against the New York Red Bulls.

Midfielder Ross LaBauex, filling in for the injured Pablo Mastroeni, slotted a terrible back pass straight to Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry, who turned around and cooly fired home for a 1-0 lead not two minutes into the game. Just five minutes later, an unmarked Henry found a wide open Kenny Cooper, who made it a 2-0 contest, and the Rapids never recovered.

On Sunday, however, the Rapids (2-1-0) will hope for a better start that last time out when they take on the Chicago Fire at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (7 pm ET, Galavision).

“We already discussed what we didn’t do [well], especially in those first 15 to 20 minutes against New York,” Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja told MLSsoccer.com about his team’s struggles in New York. “[Being nervous] could be part of it, but I wouldn’t use it as an excuse. I thought it was a lack of concentration and we paid for that very expensively.”

Pareja will certainly welcome the return of Jeff Larentowicz back to his midfield, after the veteran served a one-game suspension for a red card last Sunday. Offseason acquisition Martín Rivero will almost certainly start in Mastroeni’s place as Colorado's captain continues to battle headaches following a collision in the Rapids’ March 10 opener against Columbus.

And this week, Pareja will have the luxury of knowing who will be available to him with several days’ notice, something he lacked the last two contests with Mastroeni’s and Rivero’s statuses unclear until just prior to kickoff.

“The last couple of weeks we’ve struggled knowing if players are going to be available or not,” Pareja said. “It’s refreshing for the coaching staff now. Martín is clear and Jeff is back, so we’re good.”

The Rapids are also back on familiar ground this time around, and that's an immediate boost. They've lost just twice in their last 18 regular-season games in Colorado, and opened the season with a 2-0 win over the Crew.

“There aren’t many teams that enjoy coming to play here, and in the past, we’ve shown when we play at home we’re pretty solid,” Larentowicz told MLSsoccer.com. “I think the road games are tough because they’re home openers at the beginning of the season, and teams are jacked up. Coming home is another opportunity to put it on other teams and put pressure on them from the start.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.