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.”


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.”