COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Pablo Mastroeni worked out on Tuesday for the first time since suffering a concussion in a match 11 days ago, but it’s increasingly unlikely he’ll be able to play for the Colorado Rapids in the first match of their MLS Cup title defense.
Mastroeni jogged lightly off to the side of the Rapids’ practice at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, joined the team for a brief team meeting and then declined an interview with MLSsoccer.com, while head coach Gary Smith said that he’s a “real doubt” to suit up in the team’s Wild Card matchup against the Columbus Crew on Thursday (10 pm ET, streamed live on MLSsoccer.com, TSN2 in Canada).
The 35-year-old Mastroeni was only cleared to return to physical activity after he passed a series of mandatory neurological tests, and there are still more necessary steps implemented to make sure he’s not suffering from continued symptoms after colliding with RSL defender Jámison Olave during a match on Oct. 14.
“There’s a process he has to go through,” Smith said, “and that’s going to take longer than Thursday.”
Mastroeni started 30 games this season for the Rapids, but sat out the team’s regular-season finale in Vancouver last week with the concussion symptoms. He’s proven to be remarkably durable even in the twilight of his career, starting in at least 20 games for the club each of the last five seasons and all four of the Rapids’ postseason games last year.
But the concussion is a new challenge for the Rapids’ captain.
“It was eight long days of the unknown,” Mastroeni told ColoradoRapids.com on Tuesday morning. “But cognitively I’m supposedly all intact, so I’m pretty excited about that. I’m now feeling better and getting ready to take part in some physical tests to see where I’m at as far as physically being able to perform and to see when I’m ready to come back and play.”
Smith will likely lean on Joseph Nane or Wells Thompson to fill Mastroeni’s spot, but Jamie Smith is also an option to play with Jeff Larentowicz in the central midfield. In addition, forward Sanna Nyassi could be moved out wide to allow an extra forward into the mix.
But aside from the logistics of replacing Mastroeni on the field, there is some genuine concern in Rapids camp about their captain’s health and mental state.
“I think it’s a little bit of a shock to him, and he’s obviously extremely frustrated,” Smith said following the team’s workout. “He’s had a week or more of real difficulty, coming to terms with the symptoms and the problems that sort of injury poses. It’s not been easy for him. He’s been stuck indoors, he’s been having some headaches and some dizzy spells, and that, I would imagine, could be quite alarming.”
Mastroeni has one year remaining on his contract with the club and has fielded questions about an impending retirement at least two years running, but has not overtly stated this year will be his last in the league.
Smith, however, told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that a tall order awaits the Rapids when Mastroeni does decide to call it a career, which reached 10 seasons in Colorado and 14 in MLS overall this year.
“I have no doubt in my mind and didn’t have a doubt in my mind a year ago when we won the championship that securing Pablo to an extension of his deal that he’s still got plenty of mileage,” Smith said. “To lose him Thursday and have him unavailable is always a problem. And as I a look toward the future, whoever is in this chair, he has a big job replacing Pablo. He’s been a passionate and utmost professional individual, and it’s going to be a real challenge.”