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Slumping Colorado mix it up to lighten mood at training

Oscar Pareja, Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni at Rapids training

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of Colorado Rapids

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — After the Colorado Rapids wrapped up their training session Tuesday, a rare phenomenon took hold of several players as they walked off the field: a smile.

Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja had his men play their practice game with no rules, except for one: use your weaker foot, and your weaker foot only. In addition, midfielder Brian Mullan and defenders Tyrone Marshall and Hunter Freeman alternated playing goalkeeper, while the regular netminders played in the field – backup ‘keeper Ian Joyce even scored – leading to an unusually goofy practice and plenty of smiling faces afterwards.

“The goal was to let everything go and get back to enjoying what we do as pros, just coming out here and having fun,” Matt Pickens told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s been pretty miserable. We know what we’re capable of doing and we’re just not doing it. We’re not getting the results.”

The goal of Tuesday’s practice was to lighten the mood for the slumping Rapids, who have lost a franchise-record six straight games following a 2-1 home setback to the Seattle Sounders last Saturday. Pareja saw the practice as an opportunity to loosen things up and re-instill a sense of joy to his struggling squad ahead of Saturday’s Rocky Mountain Cup match against Real Salt Lake.

“I can’t argue with anyone that the boys aren’t fighting,” Pareja said. “They’re training hard. Today is a day where we can come and enjoy ourselves and then we’re going to have three hard days of training before Real Salt Lake. It was good to see the guys flush that frustration out.”

Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni, out since March with headaches, asked the coaching staff if he could make a one-time return to the practice field Tuesday to provide a motivational boost. The injured veteran declined comment afterwards, but teammates joked and laughed with their captain and even ribbed the former US international about the rugby cap he donned through the 45-minute scrimmage.

“With our run of form these last couple weeks, it’s tough sometimes to remember there are happy parts about being a professional soccer player,” said defender and team captain Drew Moor. “We haven’t had a lot of joy obviously in the past couple weeks, so to come out here and keep things a little bit looser puts things in perspective a little bit. I think Oscar wanted us to say, ‘Hey, listen, go enjoy yourselves when you’re playing.’”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.