COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Pablo Mastroeni is in the middle of re-modeling his home, so the first-year Colorado Rapids head coach and his family are camping out in front of their place in an RV trailer until the improvements are completed. For the highly philosophical Mastroeni, that means a lot of time to ponder improvements he wants not only from his Rapids side, but from life in general.
On Monday, that afforded the 37-year-old four-and-a-half hours of thinking time in his temporary shelter, where the soon-to-be Rapids Gallery of Honor member (he will be inducted at the Rapids’ Friday match against Chivas USA, 9:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE, match preview) had a bit of extra time to look back on his debut season as coach.
Mastroeni – whose induction will take place during a pre-match ceremony complete with video tribute and even bobbleheads for the first 2,000 fans – makes it a point to block outside distractions. He does not read newspapers and almost certainly will not read this article. He doesn’t even check the standings, or so he says.
“I think we’re in third,” Mastroeni said on Tuesday.
Sorry, Pablo. Fifth.
It’s all part of Mastroeni's fascinating appeal. He worries less about tactics and more about the mentality of his players. Just about every (lengthy) media session, the talkative two-time World Cup participant holds ends with an intriguing and passionate philosophical monologue, littered with energetic hand gestures and words of wisdom.
Mastroeni is part soccer coach, part motivator, part Sigmund Freud. He’s the coach with a nose ring and colorful adjectives and intelligent thoughts on nearly every aspect of life. He uses that knowledge to pride himself and his team on simplicity and openly avoids topics such as field type and even referees impacting matches. Mastroeni claims he doesn’t even worry about results, but rather the process of building a better team week by week, game by game.
“I don’t ever focus on standings,” Mastroeni said. “How am I going to improve the standings? How do I sit here and say, ‘All right, we’re going to go to first.’
"How do you do that? There’s got to be a process to do that, so if my focus is on moving up and saying, ‘Guys, we have to win,’ what is that? How are you going to do that? Everyone wants to win, but I’m focused in on the process. There’s people who focus on success. I focus on mastery.”
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For a coach not worried about each win or each loss, Mastroeni has done a fair bit of winning in his opening year manning the sidelines at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. With mild expectations in the light of Oscar Pareja’s messy departure as coach in January, the Rapids have by most accounts overachieved, holding a 7-6-6 record through their first 19 games, good for a playoff spot.
So far, Mastroeni’s different ways have earned nothing but praise from his players and management. Just ask Drew Moor, Colorado's captain and Mastroeni’s former teammate, who frequently and without asking goes out of his way to praise his skipper.
“You don’t always look at the head coach as the identity of a team, but I think this is a rare example, a special case where Pablo still coaches like he used to play,” Moor told MLSsoccer.com this week. “We certainly have all bought into Pablo’s system, but we have to go out there and prove to ourselves that we can go work hard.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.