Armchair Analyst: With Rapids season in tatters, the end comes for Pablo

After nearly four seasons – three of them limp and disappointing, one unexpectedly magical – Pablo Mastroeni is done as head coach of the Colorado Rapids.

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:

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
Portland Timbers 271 226 27 49.68
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
Houston Dynamo 241 202 27 43.32
New England Revolution 233 190 31 45.5
New York Red Bulls 231 187 26 54.98
FC Dallas 226 198 21 48.83
Toronto FC 225 182 29 50.05
Columbus Crew SC 224 182 27 51.92
LA Galaxy 223 177 18 50.34
Chicago Fire 218 193 34 51.82
D.C. United 208 166 9 44.4
Orlando City SC 202 174 21 46.98
Philadelphia Union 201 166 17 46.96
Atlanta United FC 196 183 26 57.58
Montreal Impact 192 170 13 48.43
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 189 149 19 42.99
Minnesota United FC 175 155 23 51.24
Colorado Rapids 155 127 20 44.81

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.

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