COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — When Oscar Pareja was introduced as the Colorado Rapids’ new head coach in January, not only did a new man arrive to direct traffic from the sidelines, but a new 4-3-3 formation accompanied the new skipper.
Only thing is, seven weeks removed from the opener, that 4-3-3 has quickly dissolved into a 4-4-2.
Omar Cummings and Tony Cascio started up top for the second straight week in Saturday’s 4-0 win over Chivas USA, and after a four-goal second-half onslaught, the Rapids now have five goals in two games with the new formation. And as for the players — Cummings in particular — the switch has been met with open arms.
Full Highlights: COL 4, CHV 0
“Up front it’s easier because you’re making runs off someone,” Cummings told MLSsoccer.com following Saturday’s convincing victory. “You try to combine whenever you can. It works. Each system has their benefits; I guess you just have to make the best of it.”
Cummings looked uncomfortable operating as the point man in the 4-3-3 in the in the season’s first six games, recording just two goals in that span, prompting Pareja to switch to the more traditional 4-4-2 before last Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the LA Galaxy. This Saturday night, the switch reaped its biggest reward as Cascio and Cummings combined for a goal and two assists against Chivas.
“I think the 4-4-2 is more center-oriented and Omar and I are a little closer together,” Cascio said post-game. “That way, we can work with each other. We’re two different players; he likes to make those runs in behind and I can check to and so vice-versa. It works pretty well.”
The tactical shift presented yet another challenge for Cascio, whose 50th minute goal against Chivas came as a result of a composed chesting off a corner kick and a powerful shot to the far post afterwards. Since being drafted 14th overall out of the University of Connecticut in January, the 22-year-old rookie was immediately thrown into the starting lineup, learned the 4-3-3, and now is back in the 4-4-2 as a striker. It's not his natural position, but, the latest — and perhaps most dramatic — change hasn’t appeared to phase him in the slightest.
“It’s a tough transition but I just try and do my best out there,” Cascio said. “I’m not too much of a forward, but Oscar said I’m versatile, so I’ve been up there trying to create chances.”
Despite the initial wave of success surrounding the Rapids’ switch to the 4-4-2, Cummings said the strike force’s work is far from over.
“I think there’s a lot of room for improvement for me personally and as a team,” Cummings said. “We still need to look within.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.