COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — The circus isn’t in town, but Colorado Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja is busy juggling in order to figure out his starting lineup for Saturday’s critical showdown with Real Salt Lake at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (7:30 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com).
Pareja will be forced to make do without six starters as injuries and Drew Moor’s suspension limit the Rapids for Saturday’s Rocky Mountain showdown. Nineteen-year-old Shane O’Neill and fellow youngster Chris Klute are likely to fill in at the back once again.
Nick LaBrocca and Tony Cascio could also feature for the second straight week in Colorado’s injury-depleted midfield.
“There’s natural frustration,” Pareja told MLSsoccer.com after practice on Friday. “[But] the players are working hard.”
Pareja wouldn’t confirm one way or the other, but the Rapids are likely to return to the 4-4-2 look they debuted last weekend as a result of the run of injuries. The move, at first glance, proved effective, allowing Colorado to open up space and take a 2-0 lead before a Timbers second-half comeback allowed the visitors to grab a 2-2 tie.
Striker Edson Buddle is the first of the wounded Rapids to make his return to the lineup, going 60 minutes in his season debut last weekend. It was Buddle’s first appearance in a Rapids uniform since his December acquisition from the Galaxy, but by his own admission, he’s still nowhere near 100 percent match fit.
“I’m getting there. If I get fitter my [right] knee will feel a lot less pressure I think,” Buddle told MLSsoccer.com on Friday, while also saying that he feels ready to play 90 minutes. “That’s what I’m focused on right now. It’s kind of a reality check.”
But coping with injuries and suspensions or not, facing Real Salt Lake at home will undoubtedly have the increasingly desperate Rapids’ blood boiling at kickoff.
“It’s a big game,” Pareja said. “Big game.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.