Oscar Pareja
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USOC: Rapids make adjustments to help dinged backline

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The Colorado Rapids have been consistently inconsistent all season long. But the last three matches have been a different story: two wins and a draw.

Despite the results, the Rapids say there is still plenty to work on, specifically on the defensive side of the ball.

After a two-day break last week, the Rapids hit the practice fields over the weekend ahead of their US Open Cup round of 16 match at Sporting Kansas City (8:30 pm ET). They worked on ironing out the defensive wrinkles that have seen the team concede seven goals in their past four matches, including six in their last three MLS contests. One problem in particular has stood out: allowing early strikes. Of those six goals conceded, four have come within the game’s first 25 minutes, and head coach Oscar Pareja isn’t happy about it.

“I think it’s a combination of different things, really,” Pareja told MLSsoccer.com on Sunday. “We have to be more aggressive, especially at the beginning of the game, be more focused and be concentrated on what has to be done. I would like the team to start to use our speed and to be the team that hurts first and then control and manage the game.”

Despite injuries to regular center back Marvell Wynne, Pareja wants to see better organization out of his back four. More specifically, the Rapids boss has begun tweaking his defensive trainings to try and draw the most out of his banged-up back line.

“Oscar’s been shortening the field and putting in … smaller goals across the back line to force us to shift a little bit more to cover for each other a little bit more, to communicate a little bit more to the guys in front of us, and really just get in a good defensive shape,” defender Drew Moor told MLSsoccer.com. “We feel like when we have the ball and when we’re in control of the ball we’re a very, very good team. We’ve scored a bunch of goals this year … but we’ve also given up a bunch. As a defender, it’s obviously something we’re really concentrating on."

While Pareja tried to hammer out what he believes to be the tangible aspects of the issue, ultimately, the Rapids coach believes the early defensive lapses are more mental, and as a result, he is challenging his defense to step up out of the gate.

“We have to get better in the first 30 minutes of the game,” Pareja said. “Our concentration in the first 30 minutes; how can [we be] a bit sharper? How can we be a bit more disciplined in our formation and the shift that we’re doing defensively and offensively? It seems for me that we played just yesterday again and now we have to prepare for the next game.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.

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