I caught the initial trickle in 1995 along with 180 other guys at a Major League Soccer talent search in Colorado. No one in the group advanced toward the payroll for that inaugural season. After I handed in my bib, I wrote a 1,000-word description of the weekend and have been writing about MLS and the Colorado Rapids ever since.

Now I’m getting some help. At the close of the 2014 MLS season, Brian Jennings adds the perspective of an MLS veteran reporter. Jennings covered the Wiz/Wizards before moving to Colorado for more than a decade of Rapids coverage for Soccer365.com (now 365.worldsoccershop.com) and Coloradorapids.com.

John Babiak and his son Marko capture photos at Rapids games and training sessions, and I’m grateful for the chance to use their images on this site as well.

By Patrick Shea

I was there at the Peter Johann Memorial Soccer Field on the UNLV campus when the Rapids beat the Rebels 2-0 on Friday, February 13.

I was there at Cashman Field in Las Vegas when the Rapids lost to the San Jose Earthquakes, a 2-0 defeat with a smattering of different players proving their worth for Colorado’s coaching staff and fans in the stands. Most of the scrutinizers at Cashman Field were competitive youth players in town for the Las Vegas Mayor’s Cup international showcase tournament.

I was there (here?) in front of my computer catching all the other Rapids preseason games online from Tucson.

So where are the Rapids now?

They traveled the desert with more than 50 people, a caravan of coaches from Commerce City and Charlotte, players, media, and support staff. Considering the full pool of players in Colorado and North Carolina, the depth at every position is pure bounty. I count nine credible center backs, a half-dozen goalkeepers, four crafty lefties, two starting left backs in Colorado, right backs galore, and a few who can score.

As of today, the CBA is still in purgatory, much like the suspense between preseason and the first regular-season game for the Rapids at PPL Park in Philadelphia next Saturday (2:00 p.m. MST kickoff). With personnel parameters still up in the air, why not see as many players as possible?

Head coach Pablo Mastroeni kept a huge group in camp and gave minutes to everyone. With surprise trialists like James Riley at right back and Oscar Montoya snaking to the left somewhere up front, Mastroeni’s crew is saturated with talent.

Montoya scored the first goal against UNLV, a left-footed blast from outside the box that deflected through multiple defenders. Draft pick Dominique Badji scored the second goal following combination play from Montoya and Carlos Alvarez.

Against the Earthquakes, Mastroeni swapped goalkeepers at halftime and the full squad at the hour mark. San Jose was more clearly in MLS game mode and won 2-0, but a few Rapids connections started to glimmer. Gabriel Torres created chances with Ben Newman, Caleb Calvert, Joe Greenspan, Alvarez, and Montoya.

In their third preseason game (the start of the Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson), the Rapids scored twice in the first half, but Sporting KC rallied to tie 2-2. Alvarez played a perfectly weighted through-ball to Torres, who calmly scored in the 12th minute. In the 17th minute, Lucas Pittinari found Vicente Sánchez, who slipped a pass to Badji for the two-goal lead.

Against the New England Revolution, Colorado scored first again, this time a few minutes after halftime. Consistently throughout preseason, Badji has won long balls in the air with deft, useful passes. In the 48th minute, Badji flicked a pass to Torres streaking forward and putting the Rapids ahead. (Note to boot: Badji doesn’t foul routinely, his shots are usually on frame, and he is rarely offsides.)

In preseason game five against FC Tucson, Axel Sjöberg wriggled free of his marker on a corner kick from Torres in the 80th minute, nodding home a header without leaving his feet. Although the Rapids created more chances and controlled possession, a third consecutive tie looked likely until the Swedish rookie scored.

Another tie will not be an option tonight when the Rapids face Real Salt Lake in the Desert Diamond Cup championship game (7:00 MST kickoff, live on Coloradorapids.com).

By Brian Jennings

The 2015 MLS season opener is quickly approaching for the Colorado Rapids, and head coach Pablo Mastroeni is slowly building to what he hopes will be a much more successful campaign than his rookie year at the helm.

“This year we’re just going by the schedule, hitting all the major points and breaking the details down when we’re on the field,” Mastroeni said.

“In order for something to be sustained you’ve got to do it over and over again. If you go out one day and you just have more spirit than the other team, it’s hard to replicate spirit and energy,” explained Mastroeni. “It’s easier to replicate good positions, good understanding, good movements, and counter-movements, and then you add energy and spirit.”

By the time Colorado played the team’s first preseason game against an MLS group, the Earthquakes already had four or five matches to shed winter rust. But Mastroeni wanted to use the first part of preseason to stabilize a foundation instead.

“That’s kind of the reason I didn’t want to play too many games in the early part of pre-season because you focus on winning,” Mastroeni said. “We’re laying down the foundation we visited to make sure that information is being absorbed and we’re working on it.”

Mastroeni has quietly rebuilt much of the roster from 2014 by adding savvy veterans in defense and midfield and confident rookies who are learning how to work together in his structured environment. “Bringing in such a large group of players there’s an acclimation stage,” he admitted.

“The first week away from home gave us an opportunity to come together as a group off the field. Getting to know the person beyond the player I think is really important. You saw that translate on the field as well in the different relationships of players that are playing in partnerships, whether it’s the central midfielders or wide players, you saw that coming together.”

Colorado has used several unsigned and guest players alongside veterans sprinkled in for the first pre-season matches in Las Vegas and Arizona.

“Moving forward,” Mastroeni said, “we’ll be shaping the roster. Obviously the games will bring up other questions we’ll need to touch on, but what we’re doing has already been planned. Now it’s just about the individual and attention to the different partnerships.”

By Patrick Shea

The San Jose Earthquakes won this year’s Las Vegas Pro Soccer Challenge Cup, beating the Colorado Rapids 2-0 at Cashman Field on Sunday night in what is becoming a preseason tradition for the two clubs. Chris Wondolowski added an extra “W” to the franchise history when he survived a murky melee in the box to score the first goal of the game in the 43rd minute. JJ Koval hit a volley off a corner kick in the 74th minute to secure the victory.

The Earthquakes took home the Findlay Automotive Group trophy with the victory, a preseason prize. According to Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni and former Earthquakes midfielder Sam Cronin, the Rapids take-away is preseason momentum for the group.

“It was a good exercise, for the most part,” Mastroeni said.

Including players, coaches, and support staff, the Rapids are traveling around the southwest with 45 people. When they beat UNLV on Friday, 22 Rapids players did not play because some were slated to start on Sunday. At halftime against the Earthquakes, Mastroeni had goalkeeper Clint Irwin cool down so Quentin Westberg could test the shutout streak he started on Friday. The 10 field players remained the same for the start of the second half: Wes Knight (Charlotte Independence), Shane O’Neill, Jared Watts, Michael Harrington, Sam Cronin, Lucas Pittinari, Vicente Sanchez, Marcelo Sarvas, Dillon Serna, and Dominique Badji.

“Initially we wanted to get 45 minutes out of the guys, not having played a game at this point. San Jose has played four or five, I think, so we knew they’d be a bit more match fit than us,” Mastroeni explained. “But when we made the change at 60, the guys were pretty disappointed because they were on top of the game, and they finally caught their second wind. They’re in good physical form, and there were a lot of nice spots of good football on both sides of the ball.”

According to Cronin, “It was good. Obviously you can’t replicate games in training. We’ll be looking for more games in Tucson and continue our understanding. We’re going through a good progression here, and we’ll be peaking in March. We have a great blend of young talented players and older guys and experienced international players too. We’ll make a charge for the post-season this season.”

The goals, the gist

Cronin lined up with Pittinari in the center of midfield with Sarvas attacking in front of them. The trio maintained a midfield edge with four defenders behind them, Sanchez and Serna on the flanks, and Badji battling for every ball as a lone striker.

At 115 by 72, the field provided enough space for Badji to run wide and deep. On the other end of the field, Irwin faced shots and dangerous crosses. The two combined for the first good chance for the Rapids in the 20th minute. Irwin caught a long Earthquakes throw-in and quickly sent a low punt forward. The Senegalese striker caught up to it in the box and fired a shot first-time right over the crossbar.

During a five-minute stretch, Badji set up two shots for Serna. In the same series of plays, right back Knight sent a cross to the far post, and Serna won the header but couldn’t put it on frame. A corner kick popped out to Serna in the 26th minute, and he fired a volley high but not far off target.

On the Earthquakes’ left wing, Shea Salinas sent a series of crosses into the box, one forcing Irwin to dive like a save to deflect the ball.

In the 36th minute, Sarvas turned with the ball in midfield and found Sanchez. The Uruguayan attacker dribbled into the box and forced a save from David Bingham.

Badji and Harrington combined for a one-two on the wing, but Badji had a tight angle for the shot.

Cronin received his promised yellow card in the 38th minute after a tough midfield tackle.

The Earthquake’s scored in the 43rd minute. Salinas sent another cross to the top of the box. Irwin rose to clear it but couldn’t make good contact, perhaps because of the contact beneath him. He fell with Wondolowski and Watts. Wondo tried to heel the ball into the net. Watts blocked it, but Wondolowski followed up to put it away.

In the second half, the Rapids picked up momentum. Earthquakes defender Ty Harden went into the book for holding Sanchez on a breakaway.

In the 53rd minute, O’Neill won a crunching tackle and carried the ball forward, passing to Badji in the crowded box.

A little after the hour mark, Mastroeni replaced all 10 field players: Caleb Calvert alone up top, Oscar Montoya on the right flank, Carlos Alvarez on the left, and Gabriel Torres attacking in front of Ben Newman and Andrew Ribeiro. The back four included Joe Greenspan, Axel Sjoberg, Marc Burch, and trialist Francisco Flores.

In the 67th minute, Montoya received the ball on the right wing and took it at two defenders before firing a shot high wide to the left.

In the 74th minute, Leandro Barrera sent a corner to the top of the box. The ball fell between defenders, and JJ Koval blasted it past Westberg.

Down 2-0, Torres led the Rapids attack. He collected the ball outside the box, but his shot deflected for a corner kick. Alvarez sent the ball into the box, and Greenspan headed it wide right. Minutes later, Torres found Calvert, but his shot was wide left.

Mastroeni said he saw positives in the loss.

“We’ve been working on positioning for the last couple weeks with the understanding that good defensive shape wins championships,” Mastroeni said. “So if that’s a foundation we can build on, we’ll be in good shape. Now it’s about putting the ball in the back of the goal. But that’s the last part of preseason that comes with more accelerated, dynamic movements. We created good opportunities tonight and just didn’t capitalize. But that wasn’t the focus. The focus was on being able to compete and making sure we could get the physical component out of the game.”

The Rapids are now in an MLS regular-season rhythm with games on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The next match will be streamed live on ColoradoRapids.com. Log on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. to watch the group face Sporting Kansas City.

By Patrick Shea

In a game designed to showcase talent on Friday, the Colorado Rapids used 16 trialists, veterans, and newcomers to beat UNLV 2-0 at the Peter Johann Memorial Field on the UNLV campus. Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni gave extended minutes to trialists while recognizing that UNLV players were trying to get his attention too.

“Whether it’s in another country where you’re playing a team from a lower division or you’re a pro team in the states playing against a university, their mentality towards the game is that this is an opportunity to play in front of a professional organization,” Mastroeni said. “If they play well, they might get called into a camp. So this is everything for them.”

In the scoreless first half, the Rebels had a competitive edge over the Rapids, winning duels and creating chances.

“The mentalities of the two teams are totally different,” Mastroeni continued. “These guys are trying to prove themselves. Our guys are as well, but because they’re at a lower level, they don’t feel they have to match the intensity. So there begins the first part of the psychology of playing against college teams. If you match their intensity, match that fight early in the game, then you’ll be better football players and the game will be very much in control. But if you don’t have that edge against guys who are fighting for everything, they will build momentum. Once they start building momentum, then comes belief. Once there’s belief, anything can happen. In the first half, we didn’t match the intensity. But in the second half we came out with the right mindset and the game unfolded for us.”

In addition to replacing goalkeeper John Berner with Quentin Westberg at halftime, the Rapids brought on Sam Cronin for Andrew Ribeiro, Lucas Pittinari for Sam Raben, Carlos Alvarez for John Neeskens, and Dominique Badji for Caleb Calvert.

Mastroeni directed his halftime message at everyone, “I told them to compete. This game isn’t about tactics and technique. It’s about competition. These guys wanted it more than us. So we can’t even talk about tactics and technique until you first settle the competition piece, the fight, the battle, winning your individual one-on-ones.”

The players heard him.

“I think there was a tackle in the middle of the field [Sam Cronin’s] that put the game on its head a bit. It said, ‘we’re here to fight. We’re here to win.’”

Partial player assessments

Mastroeni shared a few player evaluations, and Brian Crookham added more observations.

Oscar Montoya

Montoya played the full 90 minutes on the right flank. In the first half, he shared the ball with Paco Flores at right back behind him, but he still managed three shots. One left-footed blast was blocked and another went wide left. At the 35-minute mark, Pat Slogic delivered a deep cross to the right side of the goal, and Montoya’s diving header glanced wide of the post into the side netting.

In the 62nd minute, Montoya found himself unmarked on a corner kick. He waited on the far post, and the ball skipped off a clump of players in the box. Montoya struck the ball with a left-footed half-volley that deflected off a defender into the net.

“He’s a good player with a lot of potential,” Mastroeni said. “He’s very technical, tactically aware. Now it’s my job to get the most out of him and really push him and make him feel uncomfortable a little bit and ask him to do things that he’s not comfortable doing because I think players like him have all the ingredients you need to be a top-line player. But maybe some people don’t push him because he’s always been gifted. He’s got such nice touch. Our task is to get more out of him. Just seeing him for three or four days, he’s a player I truly think can contribute to this side and grow his game with us and get that bite and mentality. From a tactical and technical perspective, I think he’s a good player.”

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Photo by John Babiak

Montoya training in Commerce City on February 11, 2015

Crookham shared a positive review of Montoya, noting how the Denver forward evolved during the game.

“These games are very fast,” Crookham said, “and sometimes he got caught on the ball. But the measure of it is that as the game ran, he realized what it was going to take. He then was more intelligent about where he was on the field and limited his touches in deeper areas of the field. And he got himself more involved in the front side. His movement was a lot better. For guys like that, it’s very difficult to go from a men’s league game to playing with an MLS team against a college team that won their conference in the NCAA tournament. You look for players to get better every moment of the game. Over the period of time he played today, over those 90 minutes, you saw him improve. That’s a good sign.”

Dominique Badji

One of this year’s draft selections came on for the second half, Senagalese striker Dominique Badji. Returning to receive the ball or pushing forward to challenge, Badji didn’t take a play off during his 45-minute shift. In the 84th minute, Carlos Alvarez touched the ball to Montoya on the right wing and ran down the line to get the return pass. Alvarez weighted his through ball perfectly, and Badji scored in the lower left corner.

“He [Badji] had a fantastic game,” Mastroeni said. “He’s slowly getting better with every session every day in preseason. I think he attacked the game the right way. He held up a lot of nice balls, and he challenged for balls in the air. I think he was rewarded with a goal that was well-deserved from some good link play and more important, a good finish. He’s really coming into his own.”

Billy Schuler

“He has been on trial for us for a couple weeks,” Mastroeni explained, “and I think his second half of the game today was by far his best performance during his three weeks with us. He was with San Jose last year and is still trying to find a place. After a tough first half, he came out really well in the second half.”

Joe Greenspan

Greenspan was particularly heroic in the first half when the Rebels created a string of chances. He retreated to slow down a dangerous attack before blocking the shot near the goal. When John Berner got caught out of position, Greenspan headed the ball off the goal line.

“He reads the game well,” Crookham said. “He has tremendous physical attributes, and he’s not only a good passer, he’s a very positive passer into very tight spaces. He’ll break lines with his passing. He’s not just a big body who breaks up the attack. He will start the attack with quality balls forward. Remember, he played his last college game in October. He’s been training with a very good coach at Navy, but he’s only been here for one day. It’s a positive start for him.”

Pat Slogic

A Colorado Springs native who played in the Rapids academy program, Slogic defended well, delivered probing balls in the attack, and spiked a header off a John Neeskens corner kick, but the ball bounced over the bar.

“Pat is definitely not your prototype of a left back, but we needed that body there today,” Crookham said. “And I think he did quite well. He passed well, defended well, and provided a lot of cover, especially during those pressure moments in the first half. He was calm enough, not only to break it up, but to play forward and give us a break from defending.”

Sam Raben

“I had an academy player [Sam Raben] playing in the middle of the field in the first half,” Mastroeni said. Raben came off at halftime, but went back on for Francisco “Paco” Flores in the 67th minute.

“He [Raben] did a good job at right back,” Mastroeni said. “That’s his position. I was playing him out of position in the first half, in the middle in the lion’s den. That’s part of the whole development process. It was good to see him play the way he did today. He’s a good young player with a bright future.”

By Patrick Shea

Oscar Montoya moved to Denver from Chihuahua, Mexico when he was 10. Now 22, Montoya is currently on trial with the Colorado Rapids in Commerce City. The crosstown trip from the Guadalajara Soccer Club of Denver to the training fields at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park went through Hawaii, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Germany, Dallas, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City.

Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni first heard about Montoya on Monday morning. Montoya trained with the U-18s last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but he was redirected to the first team session on Monday.

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Photo by John Babiak

Montoya settles the ball while Gabriel Torres turns and Director of Soccer Claudio López looks on.

“Technically, he’s been really good,” Mastroeni said after practice on Wednesday. “His movements have been really dynamic. His work rate is exceptional. He’s tactically aware. And he’s got a hunger to him. There are a lot of things going for him. Like I said to him, it’s about not allowing the level to drop. A lot of times, a player comes in for a day, and it’s all good, and pretty soon there’s a level of comfort. But after three days, Oscar definitely has not dropped his level. We understand he’s not in ideal shape, from a fitness perspective. All things being equal, he’s done well in the three days he’s taken part in our training sessions. He’s going to Vegas. We have two games. We have a game against UNLV as well, which will predominately be the guys on trial. So he’ll probably feature more in that game. I’m really excited about seeing him in a live match to see how it translates.”

Although Mastroeni cautiously noted how trialists are extra pieces for his puzzle, he said, “I think he fits in here. He has a great mindset, great mentality.”

Montoya learned from Mexican ex-professionals who set the standard. David Campos, the founder of the Guadalajara Soccer Club of Denver and Alliance Sports Association, has helped guide Montoya from an average 12-year-old to an exceptional teenager and a disciplined young adult.

“I think this was his golden time,” Campos said, “because he went to the top of the hill for his school and his club.”

Montoya was the team leader when Chivas won the U-16 Colorado state championship in 2008. Representing Colorado, Chivas placed third in the regional tournament in Hawaii.

In 2009, Montoya led Abraham Lincoln to the Colorado high school championship game. Although the Lancers lost to Fort Collins 3-0, Montoya was voted the Colorado 5A MVP for the season.

“We played here,” Montoya said after training on Tuesday, gesturing to the stadium behind him, “and two days later I went to Tigres in Mexico.”

Salvador Gamero, currently a scout with the Mexican soccer federation (FMF), identified the left-footed attacker while scouting for Chivas de Guadalajara when Montoya was 14. Gamero had been a coach and scout for Chivas in Mexico for 23 years. Campos met him when he played for the Guadalajara club in the early 1990s. Years later, Campos invited Gamero to run a coaching clinic at the Guadalajara Soccer Club of Denver, and he scouted the club’s players as well. When Gamero moved to Tigres, he arranged for Montoya’s chance.

For more than two years with Tigres, Montoya played for the U-17s, the U-19s, the second division team, and the U-20s.

In 2011, Montoya helped the Tigres U-19 team share the Dallas Cup Super Group championship with Eintracht Frankfurt from Germany. Lousy weather forced the final game to end at the 65th minute, so they crowned both teams co-champions. Shortly after the Dallas Cup, Montoya traveled to a tournament in Germany with the Tigres U-19 group, and they won it all.

Recalling the routine in Mexico, Montoya said, “We traveled with the first team. The three games – U-17, U-20s, and the first team – are all played in the same day. After the first division game, we’d travel back to Monterrey. The U-17s and the second division trained separately. The U-20s were part of the first team. Sometimes we’d train with the first team and sometimes on our own, depending on what games we had. I learned a lot. We trained every day.”

Missing his family, Montoya returned to Colorado and started coaching while playing indoor and outdoor games. Then he played two seasons for Northwest Kansas Technical College. “I started playing for Luis Figueroe my first year,” Montoya recounted. “After one season, he left, and Angel Campos coached.”

While leading the Kansas school to the playoffs for the first time under the leadership of David Campos’ brother Angel, Montoya also laced his boots for teams in the United Premier League (UPL), the Denver Adult Soccer League (DASL), Soccer Latina, the Universal league, the Bilbao soccer league, the Soccer Martin league in Thornton, and many indoor leagues – at the same time. He scored 10 goals in one weekend, four in Kansas and six in a game in Denver.

He started coaching the U-10s for Chivas, now U-11s and U-12s. “I also helped with Lincoln when I came back from Tigres,” Montoya said. “I love soccer. If I know something, I like to show them.”

Same city, higher level

One year ago, Montoya was in Las Vegas helping win the cash tournament on the same weekend the Rapids were in Vegas for preseason. Throughout 2014, Montoya led the Guadalajara Soccer Club of Denver, as a captain, trainer, and a goal-scorer. The team won the spring division of the United Premier League, Copa Alianza, and smaller tournaments. But the big push was for the United States Adult Soccer Association national tournament because the regional and final competitions were both a reasonable drive from Denver to Salt Lake City in early June and the end of July.

Chivas won the first game of the regional tournament by a score of 21-1. That’s not a typo. They continued to roll through regionals and returned a month later, ultimately losing the national championship game 4-2.

After the summer, Montoya continued to play in multiple leagues in the Denver-metro area while coaching for the Guadalajara Soccer Club of Denver. In November, he volunteered to help coach two teams in the Olympic Development Program run by the Colorado Soccer Association. Working with head coach Marley Wilson, David Campos, and Angel Campos, Montoya helped run training sessions and traveled to Phoenix for the Region IV ODP Championships in January.

Peter Pak saw Montoya playing at the Soccer Country Indoor Arena in January and said to Campos, “Is it just me? Or am I the only one who thinks this boy plays awesome?”

Pak sits on the board of the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club and said he would try to find an opportunity with the Rapids. Six days of training turned into a trip to Las Vegas for the local player.

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Photo by John Babiak

Mastroeni talks with Montoya after training in Commerce City.

Campos has watched Montoya grow as a player and coach, demonstrating discipline while expanding his soccer experience. “He’s been involved with all our soccer clinics as a volunteer,” Campos said. “I think it has been good because he has been helping different programs in the community as a coach. As a player, everyone knows him very well because he plays in many leagues for different teams. I think the impact for Oscar playing with the Rapids will be good, not only because of his talent, but for being well-known in the community. I think the impact of fans who want to go see him will mean more people will go to the stadium to watch him. It’s a really good opportunity for both, not only for Oscar playing but for the Rapids as an organization. He’s a player who developed through the system in Colorado. I’ve been coaching 15 years with the Guadalajara soccer club, and the Rapids have asked how they can attract people to support the team. I think this is a golden opportunity. Hopefully, he can show that he can stay.”

Other Current of Colorado stories about Oscar Montoya (with links to videos)

Ten-goal weekend

USASA Regionals

USASA Nationals

By Patrick Shea

After the last practice in Commerce City before heading to Las Vegas for games against UNLV and the San Jose Earthquakes, Colorado Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni explained the coaching staff’s methodology for training sessions.

“Every morning we work on tactical pieces. There’s a whiteboard component and there’s a video component – usually a team from somewhere in the world that applies the tactics we’re trying to implement. Some players learn more from the whiteboard, some learn from the video, and some people learn from the practical workout on the field. I have to reach 30 different players from different countries, and they all have different learning styles. We explain the tactic, show the tactic, and apply the tactic. It helps too having more experienced players who lead the younger guys.

Slowly but surely, you’re starting to see glimpses of the team we want to be. The guys have been absorbing the information. I’m excited about the group, the commitment, the mentality. I’m excited about the guys who came back from last year as stronger people. I’m excited to see how it translates in the game against San Jose.”

By Brian Jennings

Colorado Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni saw a need for veteran help during the past off-season. He didn’t need a complete overhaul, but he wanted players to take some of the burden off the shoulders of his younger side. With a solid returning core of young talent in Dillon Powers, Deshorn Brown, Gabriel Torres, Shane O’Neill, Dillon Serna, Marlon Hairston, and Jared Watts, the head coached sought savvy veterans to fill the gaps.

“Last year, not being able to bring players in was kind of like making the best of the situation,” admitted Mastroeni recently. “This year, making sure that we have the personalities that are willing to bear the brunt of those situations, are willing to carry the team, and actually desire the responsibility that comes with that is really important. Now, when the bullets are flying on the field, you have guys to look for.”

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Pablo Mastroeni answers Brian’s questions at the 2015 MLS Allstar Game announcement at Denver’s Union Station.

Photo by John Babiak

Enter the likes of Bobby Burling, Michael Harrington, Marcelo Sarvas, and Sam Cronin to do just that in joining returning veterans Vicente Sanchez and likely Nick LaBrocca. “I feel like we’re definitely moving in the right direction,” Mastroeni said at the start of preseason workouts. “They have all the attributes — competitive edge, winner’s mentality, leaders — that I want from a human perspective. But they also have the ability to play: good passers, technically sound, and have won in their respective ways throughout their careers. Bringing in that type of mentality will only draw more out of the players we have currently on the roster.”

Harrington, for example, is entering his ninth year after stints with successful teams in Kansas City and Portland. “I’ve learned a lot, seen a lot, and hopefully I’ve learned how to win and how to keep the ship steady,” Harrington told the Current of Colorado. “My goal is to come in and be a leader — share what I’ve learned whether it be communicating on the field, the organization of the group, keeping a good team spirit, the chemistry — all those things that people don’t think about that are important to soccer when it comes to winning.”

That is exactly what Mastroeni is looking for in the new additions to the Rapids in 2015. It’s not that the younger players can’t handle the down times, but rather he doesn’t want them to shoulder the blame during those times. He would rather they play confident, learn from the mistakes, but not put the weight of the world on their shoulders, not yet anyway.  “Coming into coaching from playing, here’s how I’m helping out from a coaching perspective. I’m bringing these guys in that can help from a playing perspective,” the head coach explained. “That’s my responsibility as the manager: to make sure that dynamic is right within the group.”

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Rapids’ new Sporting Director Pádraig Smith and goalkeepers coach Chris Sharpe join Pablo Mastroeni at a recent MLS news event at Denver’s Union Station.

Photo by John Babiak

Burling has also seen his share of ups and downs previously with Chivas USA and is eager to share not only how to handle success but how to handle complications that are bound to come up during the long MLS season.

“If you look at this group, it’s a great group of young core guys that have made great strides the few years they’ve been in the league,” Burling said. “Just bringing my presence in the locker room, helping them through a slump, after a bad season — I’ve been part of good teams and I’ve been part of bad teams. It’s a long season.”

Both Burling and Harrington will be counted on to revamp a Colorado backline that will be missing captain Drew Moor to start 2015. Add in the exit of Chris Klute to Columbus and there are bound to be some communication issues for the Rapids with new faces playing next to each other for the first time.

“Communication is one of the things that separate good teams and teams that don’t do so well,” said Harrington, Colorado’s newest left back. “It’s the willingness to work together. I know that sounds cliché, but sometimes you’d be surprised at how often it doesn’t happen. As a defender, I’m even more so on that bandwagon, but it’s talking. It’s got to be automatic.”

The Rapids are looking to put the long non-winning streak of 2014 behind them and are counting on everyone to change not only the results but the mindset going forward as well. That is definitely one thing that will be a responsibility of the veterans and the younger players coming back. Harrington, for one, is impressed by what he’s come into in Colorado and is already confident that he and the other veterans’ message will be heard. “From what I’ve seen in the young guys that are here,” Harrington said, “they have good heads on their shoulders, they’re willing to listen and learn, and they’re good players. Those are the ingredients for success.”

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