Colorado Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni reveals secret to club's stingy start

Pablo Mastroeni coaches the Rapids

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of ColoradoRapids.com

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – It’s been more than 200 minutes since anyone scored on the Colorado Rapids (203, to be exact). They’ve notched shutouts in three of their six games this season and rank third in MLS with a 0.83 goals-against average, allowing multiple goals only once.

There’s little question the defense has carried Colorado to a hot start, but the most impressive part might be the club's consistency despite a rotating cast of characters necessitated by both injury and suspension.

The only common threads have been captain and center back Drew Moor, the lone consistent face along the backline, and new head coach Pablo Mastroeni, a former defensive midfielder who admits he is biased toward the defensive side of the ball.

“The one thing that we know is true in sports is if you don’t have a good defensive mentality, as far as your shape, you won’t win anything,” Mastroeni said on Tuesday in advance of this weekend's trip to Seattle (Saturday, 4 pm ET, UDN/MLS Free Stream of the Week).

“You can always improve on the attacking concepts and the players and all that stuff, but the one thing that has to be right is a team mentality when you don’t have the ball. And to this point, we’ve been improving every game.”

Mastroeni's efforts to build a foundation based on working hard defensively throughout the field, not just on defense, have been embraced in a hurry by his players.

“We always felt that the core of our team and the core of where we want to get needs to start with being solid defensively, and I think we’ve done a good job of that," Moor said. "It’s not really just a back four and a goalkeeper, which have all performed well for a little while now. It’s the entire unit. It’s 11 guys getting in a good spot, getting organized and communicating well.”

Colorado have had to go beyond 11 players in part because their back five has been anything but consistent. Left back Chris Klute got injured in the season opener, replaced by Marc Burch.

Versatile Shane O’Neill switched from right to center back after Marvell Wynne’s suspension, and one-time trialist Thomas Piermayr was signed less than a month ago and immediately slotted into his current right back role. In goal, rookie John Berner played the first three games before starter Clint Irwin returned from injury for the last three.

That lack of continuity is not typically a recipe for defensive success (particularly on the road, where the Rapids are 2-1), especially with an offense that has only gotten one goal from a striker and scored just eight times in six games.

Mastroeni, however, is thinking long-term, trying to develop a concept that will develop into consistent results – even with the promising early returns in mind.

“A lot of people get caught up in results week to week, and that’s important for the fans, it’s important for the organization. That’s not of importance to me,” Mastroeni said. “What’s important to me is that we build on those six or seven things that are critical to be where we want to be when the season comes to a tipping point.

"Every practice, every game is building toward those points. It’s not getting caught up in week-to-week results.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.