Injury gives Colorado Rapids' Martin Rivero a long-awaited start, but playmaker still lacking rhythm

Through all the wins and positivity surrounding the Colorado Rapids’ surprising run to the top half of the Western Conference standings, there’s been a mysterious question floating around Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

Why hasn’t midfield ace Martín Rivero been starting since returning to health last month?

In Friday night’s 1-0 loss to the Timbers at JELD-WEN Field, Rivero received his first chance in Oscar Pareja’s starting 11 since June 19, playing 55 minutes before coming off in favor of striker Gabriel Torres. Despite some quality set pieces and flashes of his old self, Rivero said postgame that he still feels he’s not 100 percent.

“I felt pretty good, I felt good in my lungs, I think I'm still missing a little bit of rhythm,” Rivero said. “It was good to be out there with my teammates again and now just getting back into the rhythm of the game, but I'm satisfied with the game I was able to play and I think they had very few options [opportunities] other than the goal.”

Pareja has repeatedly spoken of Rivero’s need to find his rhythm before potentially pushing the 23-year-old Argentine back into the lineup. He was a standout in his first season with the Rapids in 2012, starting 30 games and scoring two goals with a team-high eight assists.

This year, however, Rivero has suffered a string of injuries that have limited him to only 12 appearances and five starts, but he’s been healthy for more than a month and hasn’t yet reclaimed the starting spot that was his for a year and a half.

Veteran midfielder Vicente Sánchez, who has impressed since joining the Rapids in early August, was a late scratch for Friday’s game after feeling general discomfort at practice on Thursday, potentially opening up the starting spot for Rivero.

With his first start in three months in hand, Rivero said postgame that his focus is helping contribute in the Rapids’ all-important final four games of the season, starting October 5 against the first-placed Sounders (10 pm ET, NBCSN) at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

"We just have to take these two weeks to work really hard,” Rivero said. “We've got these two weeks to train as hard as we can and get the points out of our next game.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.