Tactical shift backfires on Pareja in first half against RSL

In the lead-up to the Colorado Rapids’ match at New York two weeks ago, coach Oscar Pareja mysteriously inserted center back Drew Moor – a mainstay in the backline – into the midfield at the end of a practice, though Moor remained at center back in a 4-1 loss to the Red Bulls.

However, Pareja chose to play that card Saturday night at Real Salt Lake, inserting Moor into the midfield and shifting Jaime Castrillón from midfield to striker and bringing veteran Tyrone Marshall off the bench and into Moor’s spot at center back. Rookie striker Tony Cascio was demoted to the bench for the first time in what could be considered nothing less than a curious tactical shift, particularly considering the Rapids’ hot start with the previous lineup.

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Pareja’s trickery failed to produce a result, as the Rapids looked sloppy in a 2-0 defeat at their Rocky Mountain Cup rivals, with an inability to maintain possession a constant problem for the visitors.

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“We wanted to be more solid defensively, partnering Drew with Jeff [Larentowicz],” Pareja told MLSsoccer.com following the defeat. “I thought it was a need to have somebody who could help Jeff to get the ball back for us. I thought we did a pretty good job in that part. But we gave [possession] right back to them.”

Possession was a massive struggle all evening for the Rapids, as Real Salt Lake dominated control of the ball in the first half, holding 62 percent to Colorado’s 38 percent. Moor looked uncomfortable at times in the midfield, although he and the Rapids began to establish themselves in the final 45 minutes. But by that point, it was too late.

“The first half wasn’t great for us,” said Moor, who has played in the midfield intermittently before, mostly during his time at FC Dallas. “I lost possession a couple of times in the first half. We haven’t been good enough [in the first half]. But we have a lot of time to get that right.”

In the second half, when the Rapids switched closer to the lineup that defeated the Chicago Fire 2-0 last Sunday, they began to assert control of the contest. Cascio came off the bench in the 60th minute and immediately provided a major impact, nearly scoring on a set piece and causing headaches for the Real Salt Lake defense with his pace.

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In a reversal of RSL’s first-half dominance on the ball, the Rapids controlled possession of the second half, recording 63 percent of the ball. Pareja hopes the final 45 minutes of Saturday’s defeat can be a building block for the rest of the season.

“We weren’t sharp in the first half,” he said. “In the second half, I thought we worked much better [and] showed some more personality to control the tempo.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.