Before anything else is said, let's just put this out there: Mastroeni has bled Burgundy over the last 15 years, the vast majority of his professional life. He was a great player and a great captain for this team, helping lead it to what remains its only MLS Cup triumph back in 2010. He was the fifth player inducted into the team's Gallery of Honor back in 2014. He is a hero for this club and will always have a special place in its history and lore.
But he really did prove to be a limited head coach, and for that reason Rapids fans aren't surprised that he was dismissed. He sports just a 38-51-35 overall regular season record through 124 games. Colorado also finished last or second-to-last in 2014 and 2015, Mastroeni's first two seasons on the sideline, and are on track to do the same this year. Most Rapids fans seemed ready for a new era.
There are two particularly damning points of information from Mastroeni's time as head coach. First is that at no point did this current season go off the rails, just like in 2014 and 2015. Colorado are performing almost exactly at their expected goals total, both for and against in 2017. Colorado performed almost exactly at their expected goals total, both for and against in 2014 and 2015. The standings are an accurate reflection of both the eye test and the underlying numbers, and when those three things all align it's impossible to point to anyone player or any one issue or any one stroke of bad luck and say, "Well, they just need to get X or Y or Z right and they'll turn this whole thing around."
It's just not an argument you can really make about these Rapids. They're the team Mastroeni coached them to be.
That, of course, points us toward the magical 2016 Rapids, who finished second in the Supporters' Shield race and second in the Western Conference. They were the Platonic Ideal of a Mastroeni squad – hard working and defensive and preternaturally gifted at winning close games. They went 13-4 in one-goal games, which proved unsustainable. The warning signs were there in their expected goals numbers:
In 2016, the Rapids allowed an MLS-low 32 goals, with an MLS-best 10.2 fewer GA than xGA.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) August 15, 2017
In 2017, the Rapids have one more GA than xGA.
Teams don't keep that up year-over-year. A few shots that deflect off the post and out in 2016 deflect off the post and in in 2017. A call goes the wrong way. Instead of getting the Sounders or Sporting KC when they're slumping or on short rest, you get them when they've hit a hot streak. An injury happens, or a trade has more negative resonance than anyone planned for.
The type of season the Rapids had in 2016 was irreplicable, and was always going to be irreplicable. There needed to be an evolution of the old plan, if not an outright embrace of a new plan.
However Colorado, in 2017, still played very much like a team determined to win every encounter 1-0. They've had little of the ball this year and known even less what they've wanted to do with it:
|Team||Chances Created (inc. assists)||Chances Created from Open Play||Big Chance Created||Possession|
|Real Salt Lake||286||249||27||51.72|
|New York City FC||255||211||24||56.04|
|Sporting Kansas City||248||217||21||56.71|
|San Jose Earthquakes||248||214||23||51.02|
|Seattle Sounders FC||242||205||29||53.04|
|New England Revolution||233||190||31||45.5|
|New York Red Bulls||231||187||26||54.98|
|Columbus Crew SC||224||182||27||51.92|
|Orlando City SC||202||174||21||46.98|
|Atlanta United FC||196||183||26||57.58|
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||189||149||19||42.99|
|Minnesota United FC||175||155||23||51.24|
Their record in one-goal games is 4-7, which is about what you'd expect for a team playing without a true creative identity.
There's also no obvious help coming through the ranks, no obvious new cadre of young players set to take the reins and move the franchise forward. And that brings up the second big issue: Mastroeni never got close to as much out of the group he inherited in 2014 as Oscar Pareja had in 2013. Pareja famously left after that season to take over FC Dallas, who he's built into one of the premier clubs in the Western Conference, but let's not forget what he did four years ago in Commerce City.
Precisely nobody had the Rapids as a playoff caliber team that year, but Pareja coached them to 51 points on a 14-11-9 record, getting great seasons out of a pair of drafted rookies, a number of Homegrown signings and a few scrapheap veterans who were still in their respective primes. He seemed to have discovered a core of players who could turn Colorado into perpetual contenders for the rest of the decade no matter who the coach was.
That never came close to happening under Mastroeni. The fact that Dillon Powers – just about the last of the holdovers from that 2013 team, and that season's Rookie of the Year – was traded last week feels symbolic. An era that could've been but never was came to an end, and why would the powers that be trust Mastroeni to helm whatever reboot comes next?
Fans in the Mile High City wanted change, and on Tuesday they got it. No one can say it wasn't due.