For most of the season, the Colorado Rapids’ back line has been excellent, helping guide the Rapids to a surprising 5-5-5 mark heading into Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire.
But the Rapids have struggled to keep the ball out of the back of their own net over the last three weeks, allowing two goals in a June 1 draw with FC Dallas and a 2-1 loss to San Jose on Saturday, and once again in a 2-1 road loss to the Chicago Fire on Wednesday.
In Wednesday’s loss, the Rapids allowed two goals (a 23rd minute Mike Magee penalty and a 47th minute Austin Berry header) on 16 scoring chances, including eight shots on target and eight corner kicks. While the Rapids missed a slew of chances of their own (Colorado had 11 attempts on net), the team accepted post-game that the defense needs to shore up after their recent shaky stretch.
“We’re concerned about it for sure,” Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja, who was forced away from the sidelines due to a one-game suspension, said of the defense post-game. “It’s something we were showing a lot of improvement for a lot of games, and now the last three that we have conceded goals, and that’s the main concern that we have.
“I think it’s a bunch of little things. We can’t point out just one, because when you attack or when you defend it’s a collective effort and we attack as a attack as a unit and defend as a unit.”
Set pieces and crosses – two of Pareja’s points of emphasis – troubled the Rapids back line, with Berry’s goal, while very close to being offside, coming on a Jeff Larentowicz cross. Berry was left unmarked on the far post, and the defender had an easy header across the face of Clint Irwin's goal for the game-winning strike. The Rapids also uncharacteristically turned the ball over several times in their own half, stunting forward forays, particularly in the first half.
“Just a little bit of concentration, just a little bit of organization,” defender Drew Moor said of the Rapids’ defensive shortcomings. “We just need to get on the same page again.”
The Rapids, however, were missing key defensive midfielder Hendry Thomas (suspension) and young center back Shane O’Neill (U-20 World Cup), forcing regular right back Marvell Wynne to shift to center back, while Dillon Powers moved back to defensive midfield in Thomas’ absence.
The Colorado coaching staff (assistant Dave Dir filled in for the suspended Pareja on Wednesday) tinkered with the defense in the second half, shifting Wynne back to his more natural right back spot in the 72nd minute, with recent acquisition German Mera simultaneously coming off the bench and into the center back spot – a move that could stick for the Rapids’ trip to Portland on Sunday (7 pm ET, NBC Sports).
“We’ll have to evaluate that,” Pareja said about the possibility of leaving Wynne at right back and Mera in the center from the start this weekend. “Marvell is always an option [at right back], so we’ll see.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.