Injury-hit Colorado Rapids see benefits from move to 4-4-2 formation against Portland Timbers

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – One of the Colorado Rapids’ staples under head coach Oscar Pareja is an attack-oriented, possession-based 4-3-3 formation.

But, for now at least, the 4-3-3 is no more.

Pareja switched to a 4-4-2 from his traditional 4-3-3 for Saturday’s 2-2 draw against the Portland Timbers, mostly as a result of the avalanche of injuries and a suspension that have decimated the Rapids’ roster in recent weeks.

MLS Match Recap: Colorado Rapids 2, Portland Timbers 2

“I thought Nick [LaBrocca] played well,” Pareja said postgame on Saturday about the new formation. “I thought Tony [Cascio] had a good game in that [midfield] position. I think [Dillon] Powers was very clear in a situation where he can be closer to the goal, and it was clear when he had his shot and he scored a goal. So there [were] some movements that helped us.”

WATCH: Powers' Goal of the Week candidate

With seven starters and additional bench options forced to miss Saturday’s game due to injury and center back Drew Moor serving suspension, Pareja opted to use the 4-4-2 to better fit his remaining healthy players. With holding midfielder Pablo Mastroeni (quad) and wing striker Kevin Harbottle (knee) the latest casualties in the growing string of injuries to the hard-hit Rapids, it was the first time this season Pareja has opted to scale back to a 4-4-2.

The move allowed Cascio, who has mostly played as a wide striker in Colorado but played midfield in college, to drop back into a left midfield role, and season debutant Edson Buddle paired with rookie Brown up top as the team’s two strikers. Hendry Thomas acted as the lone holding midfielder, allowing the rookie Powers and LaBrocca to push further forward out of the midfield.

READ: After Rapids debut, Edson Buddle admits he's still not fully fit

In spite of the relatively short preparation time, the move appeared to pay quick dividends. Cascio enjoyed one of his finest performances in a Rapids uniform, drawing a penalty that led to his team’s second goal, and Colorado’s midfield freed up enough space for Powers to blast home his first professional goal in the 18th minute.

“On offense, I still had the opportunity to come in or get outside,” Cascio told about the switch on Saturday. “It was different, but I think we adjusted pretty well to it.”

With little immediate respite to the injury crisis in sight, Pareja expects to stick with the 4-4-2 for the foreseeable future.

“At this point we’re adjusting,” Pareja said. “But I’m happy to see the idea worked well and it helped actually some players to raise their performance. So, we’ll see what happens with that, but I’m pretty happy with what I saw.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for