Oscar Pareja's defensive gamble fails to pay off in Colorado Rapids' disappointing elimination

Colorado Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja went all-in with a massive defensive shift for Wednesday’s Western Conference Knockout Round match. But his riverboat gamble wasn’t enough to keep the Rapids from suffering a 2-0 season-ending defeat to the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field.

Three days after a humiliating regular-season ending 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Vancouver Whitecaps, Pareja stunningly elected to bench veteran right back Marvell Wynne, inserting the sparingly used Germán Mera in Wynne’s place.

Mera, who hadn’t started a match since August 11 and had played all of 16 minutes since then, couldn’t help the Rapids shore up their leaky defense as Seattle used a first-half onslaught on the Colorado goal to advance on Wednesday night.

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“We had two games in three days, turf, there are some players that suffer a little bit more than others,” Pareja told reporters of the decision to bring Mera in for Wynne. “We wanted to bring some help in the air, a part of the games where the Sounders are strong, so we chose to play Germán in that part of the field.”

After a mostly solid season defensively, the Rapids backline had started to show signs of decay in recent weeks, capped by Sunday night's performance. In the defeat at Vancouver, Camilo ran circles around the beleaguered Colorado defense, prompting Pareja to make the dicey switch – one that almost gifted the home team a goal within the first quarter-hour of Wednesday's playoff opener.

In the 12th minute, Mera flirted with disaster when, off a goal kick, the Colombian center back whiffed on an uncontested header, watching the ball bounce behind him and straight onto the head of Lamar Neagle, who was only denied on a fingertip save from Rapids 'keeper Clint Irwin.

Mera then settled down somewhat, but the Rapids defense took nearly a half to collect itself after a sloppy and mistake-filled start. Brad Evans’ 28th-minute goal, where the Colorado defense failed to clamp down on the Seattle midfielder, came after a flurry of Seattle chances following the Rapids’ slow start.

“I wish we would’ve started a bit brighter,” Rapids defender Drew Moor told reporters postgame. “If we start the game the way we played the second half, I think we give ourselves a bit more of a chance.”

However, all the Rapids' hard work in a much more positive second half and the advantage given by Sounders 'keeper Michael Gspurning's 85th-minute ejection was ultimately undone when Mera was badly beaten by Eddie Johnson for Seattle's game-icing goal, a fitting ending for an unsuccessful gamble.

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.

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