Injuries hamper Pareja's plans for 4-3-3 in Colorado

Oscar Pareja

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — When Oscar Pareja was first introduced as the Colorado Rapids’ new skipper back in January, an attack-minded 4-3-3 formation was one of the features Pareja looked to bring with him to Commerce City.

After netting seven goals — and three wins — in the Rapids’ first four regular-season games, all looked good with Pareja’s aggressive three-striker formation. But following consecutive shutout defeats April 7 at Real Salt Lake and April 14 at Seattle, coupled with striker Omar Cummings looking uncomfortable as the point man, Pareja opted to switch to a more conventional 4-4-2.

The 4-4-2 has produced mixed results to date — including a four-goal outburst April 28 against Chivas USA and a disappointing 2-0 defeat at D.C. United on May 16. As a result, in a 2-2 draw against Sporting Kansas City last Saturday night, the Rapids inched back towards the 4-3-3 look once again, with Wells Thompson and Tony Cascio serving as attacking wingers to point-man Conor Casey.

“We’ve had so many injuries,” Pareja told MLSsoccer.com. “Omar [Cummings] is hurt, Conor’s hurt, Brian [Mullan], too, so we have to adjust to what we have. We always have options and I’m always flexible that way.”

The ultimate factor that will decide whether the Rapids operate in a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 will be the players Pareja has available to him. With a laundry list of injuries requiring Pareja to dip further and further into his bench — five key starters are expected to miss Saturday’s home clash against Montreal — Pareja himself doesn’t appear fully sure whether to go attack-heavy in a 4-3-3 or sit back a bit further in a 4-4-2.

“The difference from Conor to Omar is big,” Pareja said of his strikers, who will both likely miss Saturday’s game against Montreal. “But if you don’t have either one, you have to do something different, and that’s what we’re thinking about right now.”

With the Rapids’ tactical look appearing to be a week-to-week proposition, Pareja has worked to install both formations into his players’ minds, and he believes his team is ready to do battle either way.

“They know the two formations well,” Pareja said. “We’re not worried with the formation, but rather the execution of the game because that’s the most important.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.