COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Following a 2014 season in which the Colorado Rapids allowed a league-worst 62 goals, the team has made wholesale changes to its defense. The front office added veteran signings like Michael Harrington and Bobby Burling to the mix as well as 2015 MLS SuperDraft pick Axel Sjoberg.
However, when it comes to the right side of the Rapids defense, the search for answers continues.
“The right back position is one that we felt we needed to strengthen.” Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni told MLSsoccer.com. “We lost Marvell Wynne and Chris Klute so we felt like we need to have some good options there.”
The team may have added some veteran depth to the position by bringing James Riley into camp. The 32-year-old was one of several LA Galaxy players whose option was declined back in December and was reportedly contemplating retirement prior to his sighting in Colorado.
“We felt like we needed to keep searching and testing our backline.” Mastroeni said of the move. “James came in and brought a level of calm and understanding to that position.”
Riley joins Colorado along with journeyman Wes Knight as the trialists on the hunt for a role in the squad.
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A Colorado Springs native who's had stints with six other MLS clubs, Riley made his Rapids preseason debut on Saturday, entering as a second-half substitute for Marlon Hairston during Colorado’s recent 1-1 draw against New England in the Desert Diamond Cup.
Hairston played 65 minutes at right back against the Revolution and now appears to be the frontrunner as the team’s starter.
The 20-year-old converted midfielder played a handful of minutes last season at fullback for the Rapids and was an option Mastroeni considered to start at right back when Thomas Piermayr suffered an MCL sprain last October.
But as the old saying goes, it’s the preseason, meaning a time for Mastroeni and the other coaches around MLS to evaluate all the options before the fixtures go live.
“It’s not just the right back position, every position is highly contested within the group.” Mastroeni explained. “It’s a work in progress.”
The Rapids will continue their preseason evaluation when they play their third match of the Desert Diamond Cup this Wednesday against tournament host FC Tucson (7:30 pm ET, streaming on MLSsoccer.com).