Stuck in a tailspin that’s seen them fall all the way to the bottom of the Western Conference, Colorado Rapids coaches and fans were left searching for any bit of positivity they could find.
They got it in Honduran hard man Hendry Thomas.
The World Cup veteran played the full 90 minutes of Colorado’s 1-0 loss at Portland on Friday night, displaying both range and class in front of the backline at defensive midfield. While the Rapids lost, the defense was mostly sound, and the newcomer appeared to make a significant difference in his first game in Burgundy.
OPTA CHALKBOARD: Thomas makes his presence felt in heart of midfield
“I thought he was one of the best players on the field [tonight],” Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja told MLSsoccer.com by phone post-game on Friday. “Today, he showed all the experience he has. He’s going to help a lot with his tactics and his intelligence. We’re happy.”
HIGHLIGHTS: POR vs COL
Thomas spent the majority of his first week and a half as a Rapid working on conditioning after playing in just two competitive matches a year ago for English Premier League side Wigan FC. The work appeared to pay off as Pareja didn’t feel the need to substitute his new player despite a touchline-to-touchline effort.
“He was playing well and we wanted to have options, and good ones,” Pareja said. “In the final ten minutes we thought about taking him out, but we kept him in because he was playing really well.”
Thomas filled the ‘bulldog’ midfield role left vacant by veteran Pablo Mastroeni’s long-term absence due to concussions. The Honduran made several challenges out of the holding midfield role, combining with Larentowicz to provide a calming force in front of a Rapids defense that had allowed eight goals in its previous three matches.
But while Thomas’ debut more than met the expectations of his new team, he had to settle his pre-game butterflies first.
“I was really excited because it’d been such a long time to play 90 minutes. I had a lot of emotion,” said Thomas, who also said post-game that he felt fine physically. “I [now] really want to play in front of the stadium and our fans, and hopefully we can play a better game than we did tonight.”
Thomas will get his first chance to play in his new home on Wednesday night, when the Rapids host the Timbers at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (9 pm ET, NBC Sports).
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.