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Zapata finally solves Rapids' quandary at left back

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – New Colorado Rapids left back Luis Zapata is naturally soft-spoken, a bit shy, and frequently speaks of his appreciation for the opportunity to play in MLS and live in the United States.

The Rapids are equally appreciative to have the 31-year-old Colombian stabilizing a position that had been a merry-go-round for years.

“I saw [the need at left back] last year when I came,” said head coach Oscar Pareja, who has signed four South American players, including three Colombians since being named coach in January. “[Luis is] a guy who can give you a natural position, who can accumulate quite a few games in that professional setting. It’s very important to have people in their natural positions.”

A natural left back, Zapata came over from Colombian outfit Deportivo Pasto in February, and has rewarded Pareja for signing him after a three-week trial.

Last year the Rapids had five different players start at left back, but Zapata’s physicality and conditioning have allowed Pareja to insert the veteran into the starting lineup in each of the Rapids’ first six games of the season. Early on, it looks as if Zapata will finally be bringing long-desired longterm dependability at the spot.

“It’s always nice to have a mainstay there,” said center back Drew Moor, who was one of the five players to start at on the left side of defense last season. “It’s always nice to have a steady influence like Luis, where that’s his natural position.”

Pareja said he’s seen improvements from Zapata on a weekly basis by quickly adapting to the unique demands of the league.

“I think he has understood the need for the game on the physical part,” Pareja said. “In the back, we have spent a lot of time with Luis on getting him in the rhythm of the MLS, which is not to give an inch and get close to people. I’m happy with it.”

As for the quiet, unassuming Zapata himself, learning English has proven to be the biggest obstacle for him so far (he only knows a few words), but despite the language barrier, he’s grown to like his new teammates.

“The truth is they’re great players and we all help each other,” Zapata said, in Spanish, of his fellow defenders. “I think it’s gone well and I think we can get better and be an even better back four. Teams like to have the security of a set lineup.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.