COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – It may not be exactly a "dream team." But at long last on Saturday night, the Colorado Rapids will field the squad Oscar Pareja has envisioned since first arriving as head coach in January of 2012.
Between the arrival of eye-catching acquisitions Gabriel Torres (above) and Vicente Sánchez, the returns of high-profile contributors Martín Rivero and Hendry Thomas and the rest of the roster healthy, Pareja has a potential-laden full complement of players his disposal when the Rapids host the Vancouver Whitecaps in a critical Western Conference showdown on Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (9:30 pm ET, watch on MLS Live).
The primary Achilles heel for the team this season has been the lack of a true goalscorer. But the Rapids believe they’ve found their man up top in new Designated Player Torres, who received his P-1 work visa this week and is eligible for Saturday's game.
“I’m ready to go physically,” the Panamanian national team star told MLSsoccer.com after practice on Friday. “If they need me to play 90 minutes, I’m ready.”
In addition to Torres' possible debut and potentially handing Uruguayan striker Sánchez his first start, midfielders Rivero and Thomas could both be in the lineup as well. The former has battled injuries for much of this season while the latter is coming off a two-game suspension.
“It’s great to see the whole group being available for selection,” Pareja told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “I think [the midfield is] one of our strengths, we have many players in those spots.”
While all the buzz at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park will center around Torres’ likely debut, the cluttered Western standings are at the forefront of Colorado’s mind heading into Saturday. The Rapids and Whitecaps are level on points at 36 (though Vancouver have two games in hand) and the second and seventh spots in the West are separated by all of three points, making the game all the more crucial.
“We’re not going to hide the importance of the game,” Pareja said. “It’s a game that’s going to dictate a lot of what’s going to come up for the next month.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.