Sunday’s match between the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas may appear to the average eye as little more than a showdown between two Western Conference rivals, as well as the end of a three-game in eight-day stretch for the Rapids.
But for Colorado Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja, Sunday marks his return to Dallas, where he spent eight seasons manning the midfield and another seven years manning the sidelines as an assistant coach.
But despite the inevitable memories tied to the place where he built his distinguished MLS career, for Pareja, Sunday is less about his return and more about collecting three badly needed road points for his struggling side.
“I don’t think it’s going to be any different with me going to Dallas,” Pareja told MLSsoccer.com. “We need a result because it’s a team close to us in the standings. It’s a team I know as well, but it’s nothing special. I’ll treat it the same way [as any other game].”
The Rapids will arrive in Texas for Sunday’s match at FC Dallas Stadium (7 pm ET, Galavision) with four straight road losses, including a kick-in-the-gut 2-1 loss to the New England Revolution on Wednesday night, where two defensive meltdowns allowed the Revs to collect the win and prompted Pareja to call out his team afterwards.
“The goals in the first half were unacceptable,” Pareja told MLSsoccer.com postgame. “We can’t let those two goals in, [and] those two goals cost us. We worked really hard to get that goal and [Wednesday], I don’t know what happened. It’s a group thing and it’s really bothering us.”
Meanwhile, the Rapids may get a boost Sunday from the potential returns of striker Conor Casey and center back Marvell Wynne, who both missed Wednesday’s loss due to injury. Casey will be available for selection as he continues to progress in his rehab from his ruptured Achilles, Pareja said, and Wynne remains questionable after straining his right hamstring Tuesday.
But even with both Wynne and Casey potentially back in the fold, the Rapids will have to figure out how to avoid their two Achilles heels so far this season: slow starts and set-piece defending.
“I wish I knew how to fix it,” Dallas native and former FC Dallas center back Drew Moor told MLSsoccer.com after Wednesday’s loss, where the Rapids conceded a set piece goal for the third time in their last four matches. “It’s energy, we have to match the other team’s intensity early in games. We just need to be smarter.”
Added Pareja: “At this moment, we’re preparing physically for a quick turnaround. I have a group that knows what they want, and we’re concentrating on the objective.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.