The subject: Pablo Mastroeni joined the growing list of former MLS players in the coaching ranks when he accepted the top job in Colorado in March. His work during the first half of the season has steered the young and promising Rapids into the Western Conference playoff places ahead of the second half of the campaign.
Inside MLS spoke with Mastroeni earlier this week as the Rapids prepared for the 3-0 defeat at New England on Wednesday night.
You’ve been able to use a lot of different guys this year and you’ve still been able to get results. How has the rotation policy helped the team as the season has progressed?
Mastroeni: “It’s huge. You see a lot more fresh performances than you’ve seen in the past. It’s one of most difficult leagues to play in because of the travel, the type of surfaces and the frequency of games. A lot of people don’t understand it. Coming into this whole thing, I thought that if we, as a staff, could hone in on the type of soccer that we want to play and make sure it’s fused in well enough to everyone, then we could change those parts as the season goes on and it would be beneficial. I think we’re reaping some of that now. Hopefully, we can continue in that same vein.”
Is this idea something you had in mind when you got the job?
Mastroeni: “I’ve been thinking about coaching for many years. Being a player in this league, I realize what it takes to have energy toward the latter part of the season. Coming into the preseason – and to the dismay of many of my colleagues – I didn’t have a first team. I was very vocal about not having a first team. I didn’t want to peg a first team. I think with it, there is a lot of complacency, a lot of entitlement in that phrase. I said I have 30 players and, on any given day, anyone could be a first-team player. I think that set the tone in preseason for our development as a young group this year.
What about your development as a coach?
Mastroeni: “I’m learning more – not necessarily about the game, but about myself as a human being and my ability to communicate well with the players and make sure we’re on the same page. There are no hidden agendas. I want to lay it all out there. I want to have an honest group, a lot of trust within the group. That’s the most important part: If you don’t have that, then the information you are giving is useless.
If you have trust from the group, then the information is actually absorbed and utilized. That’s been one of my strengths, I think, as a player in this league, being a captain, to transmit information the coach wants and being able to relay that on the field and communicate that with the guys as the game is going. It’s important for these guys to accept leadership responsibilities when they are on the field. It’s been pivotal to what we’ve been able to achieve to this point.”
How many of those principles did you pick up from playing in MLS and with the U.S. national team?
Mastroeni: “Playing in this league gives you an advantage to understand the culture of the American soccer player. It’s a lot different than Europe and South America. Having been with the national team for quite a few years has also allowed me to see what it takes to get the premier players in this league to buy into whatever the group philosophy is. All of that definitely helps. …
It’s a combination of things, not to mention that I have a great staff with me. We have some experience with John Metgod, Steve Cooke and Chris Sharpe. We’ve really formed a great staff and worked really hard together to achieve these things. It’s a good situation.
The most important part of this whole group – the staff, the players – is that we never feel like we’re there yet. I make it a point to make everyone understand that. We want to achieve greatness. What that means to us might be different than what it means to other teams. But it’s what we’re seeking. It’s not good enough. We have to put together performances together, not just one.”
So what does greatness mean to this team? Or are you still trying to figure it out?
Mastroeni: “I think it’s a process, greatness. Getting more out of yourself individually as a coach, how do you transmit that to the players and to the rest of the group so they can (do it)? What they’ve shown this year is that when there was a 19-year-old on the field, he was able to achieve the same type of things that an experienced player (usually achieves). I think that’s where you start.”
Everyone likes to talk about results a lot and playoffs. I’m saying if that’s where you set your mindset and you fall short of that, then where do you go? If the playoffs are what you’re trying to achieve and you fall short of that, then it’s not success, right?
I’m saying let’s not worry about results. That’s one thing I learned – and I’ve known this as a player as well – you can’t control results. All you can control is your own performance and the collective, group mentality. That’s all you can control. The rest is left to chance: the ball hitting the post, referee calling this, referee doing that, the other players having a great game and influencing your game.
There are a lot of variables that go into it, but greatness is making sure you have the right mentality every game and seeing that in the development of the group moving forward. I think that’s greatness. It’s a greater picture to try to seek, as opposed to something very static, like a result at the weekend or the playoffs or whatever it is.”