COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – “The moment you put on a Colorado Rapids jersey, it inherently gets you fired up for this game.”
If that's indeed the case, Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni is going to have 18 men champing at the bit Saturday evening as Colorado look to repeat as Rocky Mountain Cup champions for the first time since 2006 at Rio Tinto Stadium (9:30 pm ET, FREE STREAM OF THE WEEK).
Mastroeni, who famously gestured, er, inappropriately towards RSL fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium after Colorado’s 2006 victory, is the last person who needs to be lectured on the rivalry’s importance.
“I might not say anything to the guys, but I think my demeanor this week has been a bit more fiery,” Mastroeni said with a smile after practice on Wednesday. “For me, it’s not about getting these guys fired up. If you can’t get fired up for this game, you probably shouldn’t be playing.”
After fielding a curious lineup in Sunday’s 3-1 home loss to Chivas USA, Mastroeni is looking to stabilize his rotation after starting 22 different players over the first 10 games of the season. The defense has been a roller-coaster ride this season, one that took a nose dive on Sunday with captain Drew Moor and left back Chris Klute left out of the starting lineup to recover after a three-game-in-eight-day stretch.
Injury-wise, the Rapids are as healthy as they’ve been all season, with midfielders Vicente Sánchez (knee) and Brian Mullan (knee) the only injuries of note. Mastroeni wants to keep it that way, but he’s also looking to more clearly define a set lineup in the next few weeks.
“I think moving forward, this series of [five regular-season matches left until the World Cup break next month] will give us a good chance to kind of build that group that will see the larger amount of minutes moving forward,” Mastroeni said. “I’m always thinking ‘can’t wear them out early’ because … human beings, cars only have so many miles. And if you use them up early, you’ll be lamenting that.”
But then again, stabilizing the lineup might not have anything to do with seeking continuity. After all, it is a trip to Salt Lake City, and Mastroeni’s first as a head coach. And after reclaiming the title last year for the first time since 2006, Mastroeni has no intentions of letting the trophy return to Utah.
“My focus has got to be reasonable, it’s got to be clear-minded. It can’t be passionate, because then we’ll lose sight of what we’re trying to achieve,” Mastroeni said. “I think my demeanor out there on the field says a lot. Actions always speak louder than words.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.