By Ridge Mahoney
One by one, the pieces of a championship team were moved off the board and replaced by a man with a different vision of how the game should be played. As the view around him changed, Drew Moor believed it was all for the best. The transformation instituted by Oscar Pareja appeared to be radical and severe, yet Moor knew of the man and his methods long before the Rapids hired him.
“Oscar and I were teammates for his final season in Dallas,” remembers Moor, a native of that city who broke into MLS with his hometown team in 2005. “He had that coaching mentality already at that point. A veteran who had played 10-plus seasons and had seen it all, Oscar was certainly a player like that who all the players looked up to and wanted to be around and wanted to learn from.
“As soon as he got the job here in Colorado, I knew this was a team I wanted to play for and I was so excited about it because of the passion he brings to the game. I knew he was going to be a good X’s and O’s guy -- he’s always watching video, he’s always studying the opponent, he’s always studying our team -- but if you watch him on the sidelines, he wears his emotions on his sleeve. You want to play for a guy like that.”
The Rapids fell short of the playoffs last year (record: 11-19-4, 37 points) in Pareja’s first season. Heading into a crucial match at San Jose on Wednesday, they are 13-9-9 (48 points) hold a four-point edge -- as does the Galaxy -- over the sixth-place Quakes. A San Jose victory cuts the lead to just one point with two games to play. A tie preserves the status quo. A win puts them in. “This is the time of the season where you’re tired,” says Moor, who took over the captaincy in June when former captain Pablo Mastroeni was traded to the Galaxy. “Everybody’s got little injuries here and there but you have to push through it, you have to grind it out and just trying to keep getting results.”
A big result last weekend – smashing the Sounders, 5-1, at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park – punctuated what this version of the Rapids is capable of. Most of the stalwarts from that 2010 championship team -- Conor Casey, Omar Cummings, Jeff Larentowicz, Kosuke Kimura, Mastroeni -- have moved on. Of the few that remain, only Moor and defensive colleague Marvell Wynne are still starters. Keeper Matt Pickens has been relegated to a backup role behind Clint Irwin, and Brian Mullan has been converted from marauding wide midfielder to part-time right back.
Since taking over as head coach from Gary Smith after the 2011 season, Pareja – a native of Colombia who played midfield for Dallas and New England -- has steadily infused more technical, possession-friendly players into his system. The likes of Martin Rivero, Jamie Castrillon, Hendry Thomas, Vicente Sanchez, Gabriel Torres, et al., do not play the bang-and-go style preferred by Smith, and Pareja’s version of the 4-3-3 system has generated some spectacular offensive displays.
But the makeover or transformation or whatever you want to call it has been commandeered by rookies and lower-division graduates who have made the jump into the big league seem like no big deal. Moor, who in his pro career has played out wide and in the middle, is both a bit astonished yet not surprised at how quickly a fleet of relative youngsters has slotted right into the first 16 if not always the starting 11. If injuries forced them in, performance has kept them in place.
“When you have young guys like Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers and Shane O’Neill and Chris Klute and even Clint Irwin – the list goes on and on – you think at certain times or in certain points of a game, what can I say or what can I do to keep these guys confident, pick their spirits up a little bit,” says Moor. “But that doesn’t happen very often.
“I tell you what, you don’t have to tell them a lot to motivate them. They’ve been pretty fantastic and that’s a credit to Oscar and the coaching staff.”
Brown (9 goals, 4 assists) and Powers (5,6) are the team’s top two scorers. Brown, 22, played one year of PDL with Reading as well as three seasons of collegiate ball. Powers, 22, was the 11th overall pick in the 2013 SuperDraft out of Notre Dame. Klute (23) is a product of the NASL Atlanta Silverbacks; he and Homegrown signing O’Neill (20!) have slid into the back line with Moor and Wynne. Irwin, who played last season in USL PRO with Charlotte, is a relatively grizzled elder at 24.
Moor, a doddering ancient by comparison at 29, isn’t quite sure if these young Turks are too courageous or too ignorant to rattle under pressure, and with nothing yet assured regarding the postseason, he’s treading a conservative line. He won’t touch comparisons to the 2010 team.
But he likes the feel of the locker room and what has been accomplished so far. These young players bring enthusiasm and positive energy and very little fear. “It’s crazy,” Moor says. “In moments like that, sometimes I look to them, because they haven’t been here yet, they don’t think about it too much.
“I have to remind myself sometimes to play like that. I feel I provide sometimes that wisdom, that been-there-done-that-before kind of mentality, but those kids have taken everything in stride. They’re very good about it.”