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Respected or not, Rapids defense struts into 2011

TEMPE, Ariz. – Drew Moor didn’t get the company memo.

The Colorado Rapids starting center back and resident ironman is supposed to be carrying a large chip on his shoulder into the 2011 season, his team’s chance to defend the MLS title it was never supposed to win.

After all, as the regular season looms closer by the day, there are still questions from skeptics left unanswered about the real mettle of this Rapids team and the defense that did just enough to raise a trophy last season.

In fact, is there a more underappreciated group in the league heading into the new season than the Rapids’ defense? Look around. Rapids fans are some of the only ones actually heaping the praise on the group, rather than simply chalking up the MLS title to the duo of forwards Conor Casey and Omar Cummings.

Moor should care, but he doesn’t.

“It doesn’t matter,” Moor said. "We won the championship last year, and I pride myself on that."

For the first time, Moor and the Rapids can end the conversation right there. Head coach Gary Smith and the Rapids brass made the right calls in assembling the group seemingly from spare parts, and then had the guts to pin their new season’s hopes on largely the same group, aside from the savvy addition of league veteran Tyrone Marshall and a trade that shipped Danny Earls and Julien Baudet to Seattle.

[inline_node:323892]The group – Moor, well-traveled center back Marvell Wynne, soft-spoken Japanese import Kosuke Kimura and FCD castoff and left back Anthony Wallace – certainly wasn’t perfect in 2010, but they clammed up when they needed to. Their 32 goals allowed during the regular season were fifth-best in the league and they posted two shutouts in the postseason, including an impressive smothering job on Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski and the San Jose Earthquakes in the Eastern Conference Championship.

Moor, Wynne and Kimura were regulars in the lineup, and Wallace stepped in down the stretch and during the team’s postseason run.  And as Moor is eager to point out, it doesn’t hurt to have two of the most physical midfielders in the league – veterans Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz – clamping down when it counts.

“We’re exactly who we were last year,” Moor said. “I don’t think people realized what a solid unit it was last year, and as a unit, it’s a competitive and organized group. And honestly, we hate giving up goals. We hate losing games.”

The starting four should remain the same for the Rapids, but expect Marshall to compete for time and likely see some starting minutes as the crush of the CONCACAF Champions League schedule bears down this summer.

The Rapids went with Marshall and Wynne at centerbacks in the first half of Wednesday’s 4-2 preseason win over the Galaxy, and trotted Moor out for the second half with Scott Palguta. Both Kimura and Wallace started and earned substantial minutes before they were subbed out.

“With our group … it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to get a ton of shutouts or we’re not going to win some games 3-2 or 4-3,” Moor said. “But when you put us up against any team in this league, we feel very confident.”

And that swagger is something new to this Rapids team and its defensive group, who aren’t about to start demanding respect now. They’ve already earned it.

“If people don’t respect us, that’s fine,” goalkeeper Matt Pickens said. “We know how good we are.”