Pablo Mastroeni
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Rapids have different role in mind for returning Mastroeni

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Colorado Rapids midfielder Pablo Mastroeni’s unexpected return in 2013 opens up a slew of potential questions.

How will the 36-year-old two-time World Cup veteran deal with having to compete for a starting role for the first time in over a decade? Would Mastroeni potentially accept a bench role? Could it lead to a locker rift over playing time?

Club president Tim Hinchey has thought those questions through, and after mulling it over, he thinks that Mastroeni having to accept a possible bench role in 2013 won’t be a problem – although there will be a stiff battle come preseason.

“If you go back and look at how many times our midfield was injured this year, it’s improving our team at all levels,” Hinchey said in an interview with earlier this month. “They know their roles. We need to have competition.”

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Hinchey and technical director Paul Bravo’s thoughts are that Mastroeni could play a similar leadership role to the one veteran striker Claudio López played in the Rapids team that won MLS Cup 2010.

The similarities, at least at first glance, are intriguing. Mastroeni is 36; López turned 36 midway through the 2010 season. Both were born in Argentina (Mastroeni was raised in the US, but born in Mendoza) and both are/were considered well into the twilight of their respective careers.

López appeared in only 11 MLS games for the Rapids in 2010 and didn’t score a single goal, but his leadership has widely been considered to be an integral part of the team’s success that year. Mastroeni’s leadership (he was the team’s captain for eight years) was instrumental in 2012, even when he was away from the pitch for 32 of the team’s 34 games due to post-concussion symptoms.

“I can’t even quantify today what that’ll mean to [19-year-old Homegrown player] Shane O’Neill, in the same position, to have someone he looked up to and idolized from a World Cup,” Hinchey said. “[For Pablo] to be with him every single day, what value does that add for us?”

Mastroeni’s decision to return was his alone to make, and Hinchey believes the former US national teamer’s return speaks highly to the veteran’s respect for first year head coach Oscar Pareja and the organization as a whole.

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“I think when you saw him come back last year and come back into training and what he brought – and again, it’s not an excuse, it happened – but that is the glue that we were missing that could have been there when we started off,” Hinchey said.

But come the opening of training camp on Jan. 13, the battle between Mastroeni, Hendry Thomas and Jeff Larentowicz for two starting spots in Pareja’s defensive midfield will begin. And while Mastroeni isn’t guaranteed a starting spot and perhaps could be considered the early underdog, Hinchey believes it’s a win-win situation.

“I think this is a ‘we’ll see where it goes,’" Hinchey said. “It’s certainly a one-year deal, but we’re just thrilled that he wanted to do it. It’s obviously of great value to us. I think it’s a fair deal across the board for both the player and the club.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for

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