Mastroeni praises growing "mentality, identity" as Rapids earn point in DC

WASHINGTON – Sunday evening’s 1-1 draw between D.C. United, a side that’s specialized in grinding out results over the years on a limited budget, and the Colorado Rapids – mired near the bottom of the MLS Western Conference for the past couple of years – played out about how you’d imagine on Sunday. It was, well, a gritty one to watch.

While there was more than a bit of disappointment in the home locker room – more than one player polled felt D.C. could’ve easily come out on the winning end of things – the Rapids were pleased to extract a valuable road point from the encounter.

“I thought it was not the most attractive football,” Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “Obviously we were fighting against a good team, fighting against the emotions [of D.C.’s] home opener. It was chippy, there wasn’t a lot of good flow to the game. But I think all things being equal, we came away with a good point here.”

The big story out of Colorado today didn’t involve the Rapid’s on-field transgressions; the Rapids announced several hours before kickoff that iconic US national team goalkeeper Tim Howard has been inked to a multi-year Designated Player deal. Most of the questions Mastroeni fielded in his postgame press conference were related to Howard, and how he changes the dynamic for Colorado between now and his arrival in June.

Mastroeni, though, pivoted – Howard’s arrival, he suggested, is just another piece in an overall rebuilding of the club’s culture and identity.

Sunday’s result against D.C. was also, he suggested, a step in that direction.

“First and foremost,” said Mastroeni, “we want to be a team that can find ways to get results. I think winning, like anything else, is a skill. It’s a belief, it’s a skill you've got to work extremely hard at it. You've got to have days like today where it’s not the prettiest, and things don’t go off as they did the previous two games, but you hang in there.

“These are places [where we] couldn’t get results in the previous two years. Because the mentality wasn’t good enough, the identity wasn’t strong enough. … The players are taking the lead in this. The guys in the locker room are disappointed with the result today, because they felt like they could’ve hung on whether we deserved to be up 1-0 or not, to get the three points.”

Howard, along with USMNT teammate Jermaine Jones when he returns from a six-game suspension, will bring a wealth of experience and skill to a Rapids side which has lacked both in recent years. On Sunday, Mastroeni expressed confidence in his players, suggesting that the club’s identity moving forward would largely be molded by his players, not him.

“When you ask what our identity wants to be, that’s the same question I ask [the players.] It’s not about me. I’ll say it again – coaches can only go as far as the players want to go. If not, you’re putting the cart before the horse. I think those guys in the locker room are some real men, men of character, guys that I wake up every morning excited to go out and train with. The inclusion of these next couple players will add to that, and hopefully we’re in a good place where that momentum keeps going.”