Pareja pushes outside backs forward to great effect

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Watching Colorado's outside backs in action on Wednesday night, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were watching Brazilian legends Cafú and Roberto Carlos, at least based on the way they bombed up and down the flanks.

Both Luis Zapata on the left and Hunter Freeman on the right pushed ahead frequently and often Wednesday night, and the extra numbers in attack led to the Rapids’ lone goal in a 2-1 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes.

GOAL: Freeman swings one in for Mullan

Colorado took the lead in the 18th minute after Freeman pushed well up the field and swung in a cross for Brian Mullan to deliver a looping header over Quakes' goalkeeper David Bingham and into the net. Zapata, for his part, drew yellow cards for both of San Jose's right-sided players, Marvin Chávez and Steven Beitashour, in part thanks to his incessant desire to push up.

As Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja explained post-game, the idea behind the shifting his outside backs further forward was to take advantage of striker Conor Casey’s and Edu’s respective abilities to hold the ball, and allow the outside backs, Zapata in particular, to come up and provide extra bodies in attack while the strikers held possession.

“[The move was about] bringing Edu in that position when he normally and naturally he took in and just created space for Luis,” Pareja said postgame. “We planned on having that option and just bringing Luis high up today in the field. And obviously with Conor, who is a big body and putting pressure on the backs. And in the first half I thought it went well.”

In the second half, the Rapids conceded two late goals in the match’s final 10 minutes to lose 2-1. But until then, Pareja’s plan appeared to work to perfection, with Zapata and Freeman at the center of the majority of the Rapids’ opportunities.

“The idea was to hold the ball well in the midfield when we had the chance,” Zapata told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday night. “Today I think we did a good job, but it’s unfortunate that we lost. We just have to keep working and get better.”

Bringing up the backs is a new wrinkle in Colorado’s attack-minded 4-3-3 formation, and Pareja made Freeman and Zapata two of his early acquisitions to help fill the need for experienced backs who can move forward. Pareja instructed his backs to push further forward than usual, and from the sound of it, the Brazil-esque tactic is here to stay.

“If there was a chance to come out, we had to take the opportunity when there’s the space,” Zapata said. “We’ll keep working and keep getting better and hopefully get points next time.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.