COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – When the Colorado Rapids signed defensive midfielder Hendry Thomas from English Premier League side Wigan Athletic last month, there was perhaps no player happier than Jeff Larentowicz, the veteran midfielder who has been burdened with the majority of the Rapids’ defensive midfield responsibilities this season.
Larentowicz led the Rapids with seven goals in 2011, but the 29-year-old hasn’t come close to replicating his scoring output from a year ago, managing just one goal and no assists in 26 games so far this season. Due to the near season-long absence of fellow defensive-minded midfielder Pablo Mastroeni, who has been out with post-concussion problems since March, Larentowicz has been forced to assume a greater defensive presence in the Colorado midfield.
But with the signing of Thomas, Larentowicz can return to a more central role, one which Larentowicz is enjoying far more compared to his previous responsibilities.
“It was a little bit of frustration in that my job was to sit back and it was just hard to watch us not win games and know that I had to sit back and sit back,” Larentowicz told MLSsoccer.com this week. “And that’s my fault. But it’s nice to have somebody in there that’s experienced and strong and disciplined, and that’s helped out.”
With the Rapids using a four-man midfield most of the season, Larentowicz was usually asked to take the defensive role, while the other three midfielders primarily attacked. But with the addition of the tough-tackling Thomas, Larentowicz can now press further forward, and from the sidelines, Mastroeni believes the move better fits Larentowicz’s skill set.
“I think Jeff at the beginning of the year had a lot of defensive responsibilities of his own, and that obviously becomes the focus of his position,” Mastroeni told MLSsoccer.com on Monday. “I think now, having someone that’s just as disciplined defensively – and that’s not to say [Joseph] Nane didn’t do a good job – but I think Hendry’s sitting in more, focused on filling up that gap, breaking up plays, and it allows the other central midfielder, in this case Jeff, to get up more these final few games.”
Larentowicz comes mostly from a center midfield background, and he admitted that having to play solely a defensive midfield role took a physical toll on him through the course of this season. But with Thomas asked to take away a significant amount of Larentowicz’s defensive responsibilities, Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja believes the new-look midfield better suits the strengths of both players.
“Hendry brings something new to the group,” Pareja said this week. “His presence, he’s a player who naturally passes the ball, and that’s an important addition. I think that will help Jeff, Joseph Nane, Martín [Rivero], Jaime [Castrillón]. We need to have more of that creative instinct, when there’s someone who knows that their job is to pass the ball and to support. [Hendry] knows that he’s not a creative No. 10, he knows that his job is to pass the ball and support.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.