By Brian Jennings
Colorado Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni said the club needs to supplement the wealth of young talent on the field with veterans so the scramble for late-season points doesn’t become one of desperation and exasperation.
“From a roster perspective we were really young, so young to the point that you had no options at certain positions,” Mastroeni said. “The players that you have available weren’t ready to step on the field, so I think that was a bit of a hindrance to the group.”
Colorado had issues in central defense when their captain and his fellow center back got hurt.
Mastroeni said, “I think losing Shane [O’Neill] and Drew [Moor] in those center back positions really compromised the integrity of the group from a leadership perspective that I need to make sure is in place before the season begins so that if those guys go down we still have that intact on the field.”
Mastroeni described a pattern that developed in the void O’Neill and Moor left behind. “We were down 1-0 before the first 15 minutes in a lot of games,” Mastroeni said. “If you can’t defend the right way in the early parts of games, it’s hard to win when you’re down and on the road. It’s almost like you’re just waiting for something bad to happen, as opposed to having guys go, ‘this is not a problem. Get on my back and let’s do it.’”
During the 14-match winless streak to end 2014, Colorado had to constantly rotate outside defenders Marvell Wynne, Thomas Piermayr, and Marc Burch into central defense until O’Neill returned or Zat Knight was available. As Mastroeni prepares for 2015, he explained what looks like an offseason plan for strengthening the depth in defense. “It’s critical to have those experienced pieces that will influence [young] players on a day-to-day basis, both on and off the field,” Mastroeni said. He would like veterans “to really protect them and raise them the right way. This year when we did go through a tough time — we lost Drew, we lost Shane, we lost [Jared] Wattsy as center backs — as opposed to putting center backs in there that were available, I moved pieces of experience in there at a detriment.”
Mastroeni said he doesn’t want to be in that position again.
“From my chair I tried everything,” Mastroeni said, “but I realized how important it is to make sure all that stuff is in place at the start of the season so that even if you do lose two center backs, the important thing is to have guys in the queue that have a little bit of experience that you trust, as opposed to having to move people around because you didn’t do your homework before the season started. That will alleviate a lot of the doubt. You have guys playing out of position. Those guys coming in have a little bit of doubt; guys in front don’t really trust the guys in back, so it becomes a big question mark everywhere.”
Mastroeni said he is wary of asking too much of his younger players. For “guys like [Dillon] Serna, Shane, Deshorn [Brown], [Dillon] Powers, [Marlon] Hairston, Watts, and younger players, you have to make sure you have experienced pieces around them to protect them so they don’t take the brunt of the losses. The older guys can absorb it and lead by example. When you’re going through really tough times and you’re asking the really young players to get you out of that, they haven’t experienced that, so how do they know?”
Heading into waves of drafts, Mastroeni said they can make decisions so they can start strong and sustain it throughout 2015.
“Just the organization of the roster will lead itself to a bit more stability in the group,” Mastroeni said. “That’s the responsibility that I take, that we take as a technical staff, to make sure we get right before we get on the field.”