[MLS]Formerly a mainstay of the New England midfield, Jeff Larentowicz arrived in Colorado during the offseason via a trade and has helped the Rapids reach the playoffs for the first time in four years and take the lead with a 1-0 lead over the Columbus Crew in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
He'd observed an exodus of reliable players from the Revs, so Larentowicz wasn't surprised last winter when his number came up.
Out of contract and trying to negotiate a new deal with the notoriously frugal Revolution, he soon realized this path went nowhere. In early February, New England traded him along with Wells Thompson for goalie Preston Burpo and defender Cory Gibbs.
“The disappointment went out the window long ago, because I had seen what had happened to other players, players who had done much, much more for the team than I had,” said Larentowicz of former Rev teammates Steve Ralston, Pat Noonan and others. “My expectations were fairly low going into it, but I just made sure I was ready anyway to move on.”
Stationed alongside veteran Pablo Mastroeni, the goalscorer against Columbus, in central mid, Larentowicz played all 30 games and earned All-Star status for the first time. He’s also in the playoffs, again, after playing on four straight New England teams that reached the postseason, and is one of a very few Colorado players to appear in an MLS Cup.
He earns $150,000 in base salary with Colorado; he had topped out at $34,650 in New England. The Rapids are in the playoffs, the Revs are not, and Colorado boosted its successful push by beating New England twice in league play. Coincidentally, the Rapids’ 46 points are six more than they compiled last year, when RSL emerged from a three-team logjam that included Colorado to nick the final playoff place and eventually win the title.
Though the systems of play and personnel are different, he does see similarities in the roles he fills for the Rapids and how he played while paired with Shalrie Joseph.
“I left New England after playing with Shalrie [Joseph] for so long, and it was always his team and his midfield,” says Larentowicz. “I was just there to pick up scraps. Pablo and Shalrie are comparable in terms of their experience and their dominance on the field.
“When I got here I just observed Pablo, watched him play, and found my spot. There wasn’t a lot of conversation about how we were going to play or what we were going to do, it was just kind of innate. I just sat back, watched him, and found the gaps and the holes where I needed to be.”
At 27, Larentowicz is seven years younger than Mastroeni and can cover a lot of ground as the former U.S. international tries to bolster the attack. Yet they share offensive and defensive duties, and by scoring four goals Larentowicz doubled the output of Mastroeni, who also registered three assists.
Coach Gary Smithneeded Larentowicz to toughen up what he perceived to be a rather benign central midfield, and also to bring along a track record of success.
“Jeff was out of contract in New England and most teams were aware that Jeff was available,” says Smith. “He’d been one of their most consistent players and was somebody I felt would be a huge addition, not only on the field with the role that he plays, but also as a character in the locker room.
“He’s one of those players -- and you need as many of them as you can get – that when you write in your team, if you can get seven out of 10 regularly, you’re not doing too bad. Once we knew he was available it was a question of getting the right deal, and getting together with Jeff and his agent to work out a contract so he could re-sign with MLS. Fortunately, we were able to do both.”
Now Smith has quite a few players he can count on, many of them brought in since late last season. He moved right back Marvell Wynne (ex-Toronto) into the middle alongside Drew Moor (Dallas), and also got Anthony Wallace from Dallas to play outside back. Macoumba Kandji(New York) and Brian Mullan (Houston) arrived just before the trade deadline last month. Thompson, a wide attacker in New England, has handled himself well at left back.
Before the Crew series began, Larentowicz said he felt up to the task against the Crew and confident that Colorado will generate enough chances for Conor Casey, Omar Cummings and the rest of the Rapids’ attack squad.
“He was obviously counting on Pablo, and he was counting on me also to really make it more difficult for teams to get at our back line,” says Larentowicz of Smith. “You see a defensive six and an attacking four, but I don’t think the defensive strength of our team is just because of me and Pablo; Marvell and Drew have been really good all year and [goalie]Matt [Pickens] behind them has been good as well.
“We have two great goalscorers and a great goalkeeper but it’s really a team effort when we perform well. There are definitely players on the team that people look to for stability and experience. There will be times when things get hectic and the team will be a little bit out of control, so it will be up to guys like me to settle things down.”