The Gambler: Colorado Rapids coach Oscar Pareja goes all in on attack, succeeds with 1-0 win over Toronto FC

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. - Perhaps there was an added sense of urgency for the Colorado Rapids to get three points on Saturday night.

Heading into Saturday night’s 1-0 win over Toronto FC, the Rapids were a mediocre 1-2-1 at home. And after a scoreless opening half in Saturday’s game against Toronto, the Rapids were destined for another disappointing draw, repeatedly failing to convert on numerous chances on goal as they had done several times this season.

So, Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja decided to gamble with his lineup. And he won.

The second-year head coach brought on striker Edson Buddle at halftime to give his attack a finishing spark. Then, he brought in attacking midfielder Martin Rivero in the 58th minute for the more defensive-minded Nick LaBrocca. Finally, in the 79th, Pareja completed his attack-heavy look by bringing in striker Deshorn Brown for holding midfielder Nathan Sturgis.

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So for the final 10-plus minutes of Saturday’s victory, the Rapids were playing in a 4-2-4, with four strikers and two attack-minded midfielders (Rivero and rookie Dillon Powers) pushing forward in search of the goal that finally came in the 86th minute.

“We knew our fans wanted three points, and our team needed three points,” Pareja told reporters post-game. “We needed a win at home so we threw all the guys up there and we created some options.”

The forward-heavy lineup inevitably left Colorado’s back line exposed to the counter attack, and Toronto striker Robert Earnshaw nearly (and should have) given the visitors the lead in the 84th minute, but his shot inside the box just missed, and the Rapids were able to take advantage of Logan Emory’s mistake on the other end two minutes later to claim the victory and the full share of points. Buddle drilled home his first goal in a Rapids uniform in the 86th following Emory’s slip in the penalty box, and he offered a simple explanation for the attack-heavy look post-game.

OPTA Chalkboard: Buddle plays target role well for Rapids in 2nd half

“We are at home, so we are going to press, push forward,” Buddle told MLSsoccer.com following Saturday’s victory. “That’s why we looked that way.”

Gambling with lineups is nothing new for the attack-minded Pareja, who has repeatedly said that he wants his team to dictate possession and tempo in an effort to score lots of goals. But on Saturday, perhaps Pareja went extreme even for his lofty offense-happy standards – and it worked.

“It bounced our way today,” Pareja said. “I know the boys know how we won today, and that’s encouraging.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.