COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Improved defense was one of the Colorado Rapids’ top points of emphasis this offseason. But unlike the wholesale changes that swept across much of the rest of their roster, on defense, the Rapids only brought in one significant acquisition to a defense in need.
Twenty-six-year-old Diego Calderón, an Ecuadorian international signed in January from LDU Quito, is the big piece that Rapids coach Oscar Pareja hopes will help solidify a backline that allowed 50 goals in 2012, the fifth-highest total in MLS.
And after the first few weeks of preseason training, Pareja likes what he sees in his prized new pickup, particularly from a chemistry standpoint.
“They’re coupling well,” Pareja said of Calderón and fellow center back Drew Moor’s new partnership in the heart of the Rapids defense. “Drew is speaking Spanish and Diego is speaking English.”
At a recent practice, Calderón barked orders at his new teammates, quickly assuming an active leadership role just weeks after setting foot in his new home. But for the vocal Ecuadorian, who is playing outside his native land for the first time in his career, learning English is a top priority so he can properly communicate with his new teammates and help lead his new team.
“I’m trying to learn from my teammates and learning the words that I need to communicate with the group,” Calderón told MLSsoccer.com. “Later I’m going to take English classes so I can talk with everyone.”
With veterans such as Jeff Larentowicz, Omar Cummings and Conor Casey departing the Rapids this offseason and being replaced mostly by younger players, several respected voices are no longer in Colorado, perhaps leaving leadership spots up for grabs. But few expected the South American newcomer to be the one to help fill that leadership void so quickly.
“He’s been great,” Moor told MLSsoccer.com of Calderón, who has five caps with the Ecuadorian national team. “He’s extremely professional. A guy with a lot of experience, and he communicates all the time, which is funny because he’s still learning English.”
On the field, Calderón is the favorite to win the Rapids’ starting center back spot, where he would be taking the place of Marvell Wynne, who is expected to shift to right back in 2013. The muscle-bound Calderón will now be paired with Moor, with the idea of allowing Wynne’s speed and athleticism to push further forward from a right back position while giving the Rapids a strong, physical presence in the middle of their defense.
“There aren’t many differences,” Calderón said of changes between MLS and Ecuador’s Serie A, where he’s played nearly his entire professional career. “They play soccer everywhere, so it’s a growing league and it’s a special experience for everyone who comes here.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.