Mastroeni to return for 12th season with Rapids next year

After mixed indications all season left his playing status and health in limbo, Colorado Rapids captain Pablo Mastroeni will be returning to the team in 2013, according to mutiple sources familiar with the deal.

The club confirmed the deal on Thursday, but as per league and team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“I am thrilled to have signed a new contract and I can’t wait to get back on the field in 2013," Mastroeni said in a statement. “I want to thank the club for their support in helping me return, and I am excited about what we can accomplish next year with Oscar [Pareja] leading the group. I’m honored to continue representing the Rapids and the state of Colorado.”

The 36-year-old Mastroeni did not return to the field this season after a 2-1 win on March 18 at Philadelphia while battling concussion symptoms dating back to collision with Real Salt Lake defender Jámison Olave in Oct. 2011. The Rapids’ three-time club MVP battled a difficult period in the weeks following that game in Philadelphia, admitting he battled headaches and other concussion-related symptoms and telling MLSsoccer.com in April that the injury was "the real deal."

Mastroeni stayed busy during the 2012 season by practicing regularly from early summer on and serving as a de facto assistant coach. The Argentina-born, Arizona-raised veteran served as a mentor to several of the team’s younger players this season and multiple front office representatives indicated to MLSsoccer.com they wanted Mastroeni to return to the club in some capacity in 2013.

“Pablo is our captain, and a true leader on the field and in the locker room,” Rapids Technical Director Paul Bravo said in a statement. “We missed him last season and know how much his presence can help us, whether it’s directing play in a match or helping players develop their knowledge of the game during practice. We’re very excited that he’s decided to continue playing with the club into 2013."

The two-time World Cup veteran will, however, have his work cut out for him to earn a spot in head coach Oscar Pareja’s starting midfield. Highly-regarded summer signing and former English Premier League pro Hendry Thomas and established MLS veteran Jeff Larentowicz helped Colorado finish 3-2-2 in their final seven games in 2012, and now all three players are expected to battle for two spots in the midfield of Pareja’s 4-3-3 look next season.

Next season with be Mastroeni's 12th with the Rapids and 16th in the league overall, making him one of the longest tenured MLS players still on the field. His 318 career regular-season appearances rank him second among active players behind former Rapids teammate Tyrone Marshall (337) and just ahead of Brian Mullan (307), who will anchor the Rapids' right wing again next year. Mastroeni's 227 regular-season games with the Rapids is also a club record.

“Over the last 11 seasons, Pablo has given this franchise so much, and we are all thrilled that he’s coming back next year,” Rapids President Tim Hinchey said in statement. “When he was unable to play in 2012, Pablo was our most active player in his charity work, spending a great deal of his time making our community a better place. He’s a great representative of our club and our sport.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.