COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – When Colorado Rapids right back Hunter Freeman found out he would be starting Sunday evening against the L.A. Galaxy, the defender was taken by surprise. But while Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja took a gamble in making Freeman the Rapids’ only change from their 2-2 draw with Vancouver last Sunday, the move paid dividends for Pareja’s team, particularly in the first half.
Freeman, who hadn’t played in over a month since starting an August 25 loss in San Jose, lined up at right back and created the Rapids’ lone goal of the 1-1 draw, acting as an unlikely offensive juggernaut in the first half, pushing forward along the right wing and taking advantage of space given to him by the attack-oriented Galaxy. In the 16th minute, Freeman made his biggest contribution, intercepting a pass and pushing up along the right wing before eventually delivering the low cross that Jaime Castrillon finished for the Rapids’ goal.
“Hunter brought us a lot of energy on that right side,” Pareja said. “As a player he crosses the ball a lot and does it very well. So I was happy with the production that Hunter brought us today.”
Freeman forced the Galaxy to shift more resources, specifically Mike Magee, toward slowing him down in the second half, opening more space in the midfield and helping the Rapids nearly capture a game-winning goal. Still, Freeman’s greatest impact came in the first half, when his crosses helped create 14 first-half opportunities – all despite the fact that Freeman had little warning that he would play at all on Sunday.
“I was a little surprised, to be quite honest, because in training all week I hadn’t really been there [with the starting 11],” Freeman told MLSsoccer.com. “But that’s our job, to be ready whenever our number’s called. Of course I was excited to be in there even though I was surprised. This game I think kind of played into my hands a little bit. There was a lot of space wide and going forward. Unfortunately we didn’t get the victory, but I thought my performance was good.”
In the end, the 27-year-old hopes he did enough to catch Pareja’s eye and put in a claim to be in the starting lineup for the final three games of the regular season.
“Every time I go out on the field I try and be confident in what I do and contribute to the team in however the game plays out,” Freeman said. “Like I said, tonight, especially in the first half, I thought it was good for me to go forward. That’s what Oscar told me to do, and that’s what I did. Every game’s different, and ultimately he makes the choices, but hopefully I’ve made that choice a little bit harder for him.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.