COMMERCE CITY, Colo.- Just about nothing annoys Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja more than watching his team allow a set-piece goal.
Fortunately for Pareja and the Rapids, there’s been little reason for the second-year skipper to be irritated of late. Colorado’s back line has held firm against set pieces in recent weeks, and it’s little coincidence that the stout set-piece defending has led the Rapids to a six-game unbeaten run – and four wins over those six games – in helping Colorado to a surprise place near the top of the Western Conference standings deep into the season.
“For sure now, we’re using the size that we have in our players and I think they’re connecting more to each other,” Pareja told reporters postgame on Saturday. “That came from a team that is training a lot [on set pieces], and that pays off.”
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In Saturday night’s 2-0 win over the Galaxy at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, the Rapids got a major lift from Hendry Thomas’ 41st minute goal off a corner kick. Rookie Dillon Powers whipped in a cross into the center of the box, where Thomas was alone and unmarked, and the Honduran delivered a punishing header into the back of the net. The set-piece goal handed Colorado a 1-0 lead into the break despite an overall sluggish opening 45 minutes from the home team.
“We work on it a lot more than we did last year,” Rapids defender Drew Moor told MLSsoccer.com postgame. “In practice we go over it every week, several days a week usually, at the end of some practice sessions, and that’s key.”
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With Thomas’ goal, the Rapids have now scored five goals off corner kicks so far this season, while allowing just two. Last season, the Rapids were frequently done in on dead balls, but this year, things have been different, and in turn, in the standings as well.
“Today was great to see a team that is defending set pieces very well,” Pareja said. “We always have to remember that we have a young team, a team that, say, 45 percent don’t have more than 20 games in the league, and they’re getting mature in that part, in set pieces, in concentration and not giving up goals like today. So, that is good."
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.