As competition heats up in Colorado Rapids midfield, Oscar Pareja set to shuffle lineup once again

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Three players, two spots. The Colorado Rapids have plenty of competition for places in their starting 11, but perhaps the fiercest battle of all is in the heart of the midfield.

It’ll be another reason to watch Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja’s rarely boring lineup Saturday night when the Rapids battle the San Jose Earthquakes at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (9 pm ET, MLS Stream of the Week). Nathan Sturgis, Pablo Mastroeni and Hendry Thomas have all been vital to Colorado’s success this season, and all three are vying for two spots at holding midfield.

Of late, it’s been the surprising Sturgis who’s locked down one of those roles, starting each of Colorado’s last five games while contributing a pair of goals in that time. That means two-time World Cup veteran Mastroeni is riding the bench – a role he recently told MLSsoccer.com that he’s not thrilled with  – while Sturgis and Thomas see the lion’s share of the minutes.

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In the 4-2-3-1 that Pareja has preferred in recent weeks, Sturgis and Thomas have manned the defensive-minded spots at the back of the midfield, with Thomas playing a slightly more defensive role just in front of the back four.

However, Pareja said he doesn’t necessarily choose his players based on the individual; rather, he bases it off the opponent and the game situation.

“Every player in the middle gives us different alternatives,” the coach told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “Sometimes, you may need two holding midfielders, sometimes you may need only need one holding and one mixed, sometimes you want to have two mixed.

“It’s difficult to say specifically what you are looking for. I think it’s a collage of things that are there and you read the game and say, ‘Maybe this is a better game for Thomas.’ And normally, what you want is to have consistency, but sometimes the game just dictates other stuff or other needs.”

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But if recent lineups, and more importantly, recent results are anything to go off of, then it’ll be Sturgis who’s in the lineup when Colorado looks to extend its unbeaten streak to seven games on Saturday night.

“A guy who’s been around, has experience,” Pareja said of Sturgis. “And he’s had very good performances and has taken advantage of the opportunity given to him.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.