By Brian Jennings

Looking back on the 2014 Colorado Rapids season, it’s tough to find many bright spots, especially when the team hadn’t won on the road since early April and will carry the string of 14 winless results into 2015.

A thoughtful and reflective ex-player, head coach Pablo Mastroeni listed a few items in the “pro” column, despite the woeful numbers in the column of cons.

“I liked that the guys from Day One wanted to think about the game differently,” Mastroeni calmly explained in his office early in November. “The amount of education for both the players and myself was tremendous.”

Roll back to the end of last year and you’ll remember a Rapids team that was scrambling to replace their entire coaching staff prior to the drafts. New coaches would have to hit the ground running in order to convey their message to the team.

That message was different from the norm but one that explained how Mastroeni has played the game. “I came and asked them to change the way they thought about the game and take more responsibility for their own careers. With that, take more responsibility for the decisions they make on the field and do that within the tactics we’re looking to employ. Make this your livelihood; make this your craft. Study it, learn it, and love it. From that perspective, it was really positive.”

Mastroeni’s lengthy bout with post-concussion symptoms during his final season as a player set this self-reflection in motion for him. He had to look at his own life in depth while recovering, and he shared this approach with the players while following his own advice.

“Understanding who you are is a big part of everything in life,” Mastroeni said. “After games that didn’t go our way I wouldn’t look at players. I’d look at myself and analyze myself from the tactical perspective, the way I communicated, and the way I got them ready through the week. The great thing is I always ask the players to do the same thing from their perspective and accept responsibility in their own way. The reason I know that is because the following Tuesday everyone was tuned in and ready to go. You have a bunch of guys who are committed to winning for the team.”

Mastroeni admitted that “what we’ve been able to do is go through some very difficult times as a group.” For all the disappointments during the back half of 2014, this will be a silver lining going forward. “The guys that will be here next year will have a bond that will be unlike any other group around the league — to come through such a tough time and now see the light, have a whole pre-season to prepare, and get on the same page and move forward. I think there’s a lot of optimism that lies ahead.”