Rapids' Pareja: "Never dreamed" year would be so tough

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – At the end of training earlier this week, first-year Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja spent 15 minutes speaking passionately – and often harshly – to his players, offering several choice words for emphasis during an end-of-practice monologue.

Although Pareja declined to discuss specifically what he said to his team, the message was clear: This season, with the Rapids (9-18-2) just a point away from the bottom of the Western Conference table, hasn’t been good enough for the ultra-competitive skipper’s lofty standards.

“I never dreamed about having this tough a season so far. It’s something that wasn’t in the plans for anyone,” Pareja told MLSsoccer.com this week. “But it’s something the game brings you, and you have to deal with it, because that’s the job.”

After taking the Rapids’ head job in January, Pareja handed the keys to a veteran-laden squad that began the season as the league’s second-oldest group. The intent was to win right away, and Colorado appeared on course to making the postseason after a string of positive results in his first two months on the job.

But an unprecedented and seemingly endless losing spell followed, landing the burgundy on the doorstep of the Western Conference cellar.

Still, Pareja’s passionate methods – he employs a fiery, hands-on coaching style that frequently features him taking part in practices and scrimmages – have quickly earned the respect of his team. He won’t criticize individual players publicly, preferring to keep problems in-house, and that still appears to have garnered the Rapids’ best efforts, despite the team’s striking dip in form.

Sure, results have been hard to come by, but that’s certainly not down to lack of effort.

“Not at all,” Pareja said. “It’s frustrating.”

The Colombian says that although he’s learned several lessons from the Rapids’ rough summer, his concentration remains on the task at hand. With only five games left on the season, Colorado still hold an outside chance of making the playoffs, starting with Sunday’s do-or-die clash against the Vancouver Whitecaps (7:30 pm ET, watch on MLS LIVE).

“We’re always learning. I think you learn more from losses than [wins]. But we keep moving,” Pareja said. “I’ve said it a number of times. [I’ve learned many lessons], but we’re collecting them and thinking about the next game.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.